Monday, January 9, 2012

SAD isn't the word for it

Maybe it's been due to the abysmally unseasonal weather to have hit Auckland, New Zealand over the Christmas-New Year holiday break. This is the time when living in the southern hemisphere is supposed to be all about living outside, getting some overdue sunrays, although not too many of them, on the body and reviving yourself for the year ahead.

In the instance of 2011-12 it was about finally getting over the heights associated with New Zealand regaining the Rugby World Cup – something the 'stadium of four million' had been preoccupied with for 24 years. While that was successfully achieved, it was not made any easier by the Cup final against France being replayed persistently on SKY Television's Rugby Channel, Auckland, and much of the North Island, lived under a permanent rain cloud which shows no sign of abating before March. And that's according to the forecasters who, it has to be said, do not hold any records for accuracy.

That left time for scouring the internet to catch up on some overdue reading of happenings around the world. With this in mind it was with disappointment that another leader in terms of his comprehension and presentation of sport beyond the result absented himself from the mainstream media. George Vecsey had a long and distinguished record of service with the New York Times. In that time he penned one of the great sports autobiographies on Martina Navratilova and among other books recorded a year of action in A Year in the Sun. Vecsey was different from your usual American columnist, he wasn't tied to American sports. He carved a name for himself in writing about football, or soccer, while his Postcards from the various Olympic Games he attended always provided a fascinating insight into activities and athletes not immediately obvious to the beat writers or the cheerleaders providing the television coverage. Vecsey will not be lost, however. He has joined the blogosphere and his material will be available at It is well worth bookmarking right away.

Vecsey's switch has encapsulated a significant change in the literary world, and that is in the widest sense of the words. Another star who has emerged on the internet has to be Dave Zirin. He writes for The Nation in the US but also has his own website, At a time when right wing politics have reached extreme levels in the US, Zirin's dialogues are a breath of fresh air and reason at time when both are in danger of swamping the great unwashed.

Dumbing down of newspapers and the loss of experienced journalists across the board was never more apparent than during the election coverage in New Zealand in 2011. Inexperienced reporters were easily side-tracked by media minders resulting in coverage being confined to flim-flam items and more akin to the society pages of weekend rags than actually providing anything of substance for voters to ponder in the most important event of the triennium. Little wonder that the voter turnout was the lowest since the 1880s. But it showed that if you make political coverage lightweight enough, and apologies for seriously mangling the message from Field of Dreams ("If you build it, they will come"), if you don't do it, they won't care. The consequences of indifference for any democracy are horrendous but sadly that is what is happening in New Zealand. But all is not lost, at least if you have access to the internet. NZ Politics Daily will go a long way towards filling the void the newspapers no longer care about, even moreso in the absence of NZPA.

However, it is not only newspapers. The publishing industry in itself is still attempting to come to grips with the advances of technology. The obvious demise of the heavyweight book-selling chains did not help but showed the appalling mismanagement has had severe consequences for the advance of knowledge, especially at the expense of the local economy. Why would you pay the exorbitant rates for books as these chains were charging when you could do so much better by buying cheaper, and faster, from overseas? Now publishers want the government to add GST to books purchased overseas as a form of disincentive to following the practice. Fat chance, especially as the number of electronic readers grow.

The miserable weather did nothing to change the view that commercial television has any redeeming virtues. An accurate description of what it has to offer is impossible unfortunately. Any attempt to watch it tends to coincide with lengthy advertising breaks or reality shows. And when the quest is for information in news programmes, it is back to the lowest common denominator. As for commercial radio...dear oh dear.

But what, if you think this is all doom and gloom, there is a reason. It may have to do with 'seasonal affective disorder'. This is exactly as it sounds, SAD, except it is usually something associated with winter rather than summer. But then again, that may say it all.