Opinion: Channel Me - the health benefits of a varied media diet

  • Opinion
  • 20/04/2020

By Vaughn Davis

I was at a party at a friend's place in Mt Eden a couple of years back and got to talking to another of the guests. As we chatted, I could see that "I know you from somewhere" look on his face, eventually replaced by that "I know where I know you from" one.

"I recognise your voice!" said my new friend. "You're on the radio, aren't you?"

Now please don't think for one moment that the only reason people do radio shows is so other people will recognise their voices at parties. It's the main reason, but not the only one. So I was a bit chuffed to be recognised, to be honest.

"I sure am," I replied. "Radio Live, Sunday nights, 7pm."

If you were anywhere in Auckland that afternoon, you now know why the whole city stopped and fell silent. I swear I saw a splash of rosé stop halfway between the bottle and the glass, as every eye in the room turned towards us and my friend's face turned as red as the beetroot hummus on his cracker.

"Radio... Live?"

"Ah no. Can't have been," he continued. "I don't, I mean, not that there's anything wrong... but I never listen to..."

I'm not an unkind man, and I could see my new friend was drowning in a puddle of unpopular media choices. So I threw him a conversational life preserver.

"Ah, well, of course bits of my show have been featured on Mediawatch a couple of times. On RNZ."

The splash of rosé finished its journey to the glass. The clock on the wall started ticking again. And my friend's beetroot face returned to the same pale pink skin tone as everyone else in Mt Eden's. 

I was reminded of this story the other day, when Mediaworks announced that Paul Henry was returning to host a short TV series.

Reading the comments on my Twitter and Facebook timeline - both of which I accept reflect whom I choose to follow and nothing else - you'd think the company had announced it was going to burn Ashley Bloomfield, televise it, and sell his ashes as garden fertiliser.

I'm reminded of it, too, whenever I hear my friends comment on either of our two main commercial radio morning hosts and explain to me just how wrong they are.

They hate them, and everything they say, so they never listen. (And, of course, never hear what it is they hate so much.)

I get that at any time, and maybe more so in stressful times, we find comfort in familiar voices, and opinions that mirror our own. It's why on social media most people follow their friends, not people they disagree with. 

But I believe limiting your media choices to the ones you agree with - and villainising the alternatives - is a very bad idea.

Tribalism of any sort leads to divisiveness and hatred. As I've written previously, this is a bad thing for everyone. Today, as the world is gripped by the dreaded lurgy, it's dangerous for all of us. The idea of national unity doesn't sit well with the belief that the 500,000 New Zealanders who listen to the "other" radio station are idiots.

So what can we do about it?

I'll admit, I'm starting from a position of privilege here. I've either worked full time, hosted shows, appeared as a commentator or written columns (hi!) for every one of our major radio, TV and newspaper publishers. In the process, I've learned that every one of them employs people I like, and people I don't. The similarities between journalists and hosts at (insert name of channel you love) and (insert name of channel you hate) far outweigh the differences between them. 

Don't believe me? See for yourself. Tomorrow morning, listen to a radio show you usually don't. If that means hearing ads for Brian's Circus of Tyres, then suck it up. Brian and his tyres pay for the journalists. And listen to the whole thing - not just the deliberately provocative editorial rant.

Same for TV. (And spare me the "TV? Who watches that?" boredom.) Try watching the news on the other channel now and then. Ditto for online news (but please, come straight back here and click on some ads!).

Like I said, I'm lucky enough to have a head start on this. But habits make for easy living, so it's been months since I've moved my radio dial (OK, asked Google Home to stream a different station.) So I tried it this week. And the most shocking thing? I didn't hear anything shocking. I heard a host my friends despise, giving me his take on the news, interviewing the people behind it, and holding down two hours of live radio for possibly the thousandth time.

And that felt pretty good. I'm not sure it taught me anything, but it did remind me of something I already knew. 

Sometimes, people you don't like can be right. Sometimes, people you like can be wrong. So to get the truth, you need to listen to both.

Vaughn Davis owns Auckland advertising agency The Goat Farm, talks tech every Saturday on Magic Talk and is a regular contributor to several media channels.