Story: Digital media and the internet

Page 5. Blogs and satire

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There were editorial ventures that met the description of a weblog, or blog, long before the term was used. One of the earliest, Bruce Simpson's Aardvark, began providing technology news and commentary in 1995.

Read Write Web

Read Write Web, which covered technology developments, was launched by Lower Hutt resident Richard MacManus in 2003. It employed multiple authors and became one of New Zealand’s most widely read and influential blogs. It was syndicated to the New York Times and by 2008 was ranked the 9th most popular blog in the world, with 1.6 million page views a month. McManus sold his site to United States company SAY media in 2011, and in 2012 it was rebranded as ReadWrite.

18th-century style, 21st-century success

Denis Dutton, a professor at the University of Canterbury, began a portal of interesting humanities content on the web in 1998. The design of Arts & Letters daily mimicked an 18th-century broadsheet, with three columns: ‘Articles of Note’, ‘New Books’, ‘Essays and opinion’. The site was rapidly very successful and by 2005 was attracting 2.5 million page views a month. It was eventually sold to the US Chronicle of Higher Education.

Political blogs

Most local attention – and traffic – goes to blogs concerned with politics. In 2013 the two most popular, Whale Oil Beef Hooked (usually known as Whale Oil) and Kiwiblog, served the political right; while two group blogs, The Standard and The Daily Blog, offered a left-wing perspective.

The Public Address group of blogs took a liberal stance, but often ventured beyond politics to music, culture, sport and sexuality. Wellington constitutional lawyer Graeme Edgeler became a media expert on electoral law via his Legal Beagle blog on the Public Address site. The main news sites, such as Stuff, also set up blogs.

No political blog has been more consistently controversial than Whale Oil, whose founder, Cameron Slater, was convicted in 2010 of eight charges of breaching name suppression orders and one of naming a victim in a sexual abuse case. In 2014 Nicky Hager, in his book Dirty politics used communications taken from Slater's website by an unnamed hacker to allege co-operation between Slater and the National government in attacking political rivals. The fallout from the book saw two official inquiries ordered and the resignation of Justice Minister Judith Collins, a friend of Slater’s, in the midst of the 2014 election campaign, but did no apparent harm to John Key's government, which won the election.

Special interest blogs

A number of special-interest blogs were influential. TransportBlog covered Auckland’s transport and planning issues, Throng carried talk about popular television and SciBlogs, maintained by the Science Media Centre, aggregated the country's best science blogs.

In 2014 New Zealand's largest specialist blog site was Geekzone, which was launched in 2003 by Wellington IT worker Mauricio Freitas and became a technology blogging community that attracted nearly 300,000 visitors each month, nearly half of them from outside New Zealand.

Blogs achieved acknowledgement by the media establishment in 2007, when Public Address founder Russell Brown won the Qantas Media Awards' new Best Blog award for Hard News. Apart from 2008, when Richard McManus and his Read Write Web were honoured, the award went to blogs on established news media websites until 2014, when Cameron Slater and Whale Oil received the blogging award at the renamed Canon Media Awards for breaking a controversial news story about Auckland mayor Len Brown's extramarital affair.

Welcome to The Civilian

In launching The Civilian, Ben Uffindell wrote: ‘My name is Ben Uffindell, and I was once the Vice Chancellor of the University of Canterbury. I involuntarily relinquished that position two years ago following an unfortunate incident involving a panda … Several months ago, however, I came upon a small, promising but possibly illegal business venture that allowed me to accrue enough funds to return to life in a moderately well equipped apartment building in the heart of our nation’s cultural capital, Greymouth. It was from here that I decided to spite my wife by doing the one thing she told me that I could never do: start a newspaper.’1

Satire

Contemporary digital media offered a platform for satire, a genre not always welcome in established publications.

Bloggers Danyl Mclauchlan (The Dim-Post) and Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish) and Scoop news site reporter Lyndon Hood wrote in the best traditions of New Zealand satire. In 2013, 22-year-old Christchurch man Ben Uffindell launched The Civilian, a satirical ‘newspaper’ that vaulted into the news after Conservative Party leader Colin Craig threatened legal action over quotes attributed to him in a satirical article published on the site.

Footnotes:
  1. ‘Welcome to The Civilian’. The Civilian, http://www.thecivilian.co.nz/welcome-to-the-civilian/ (last accessed 7 February 2014). Back
How to cite this page:

Russell Brown, 'Digital media and the internet - Blogs and satire', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/digital-media-and-the-internet/page-5 (accessed 15 December 2017)

Story by Russell Brown, published 22 Oct 2014