Who will buy?

November 20, 2012

APN has announced it is to sell its South Island titles and Wellington community papers.

Among them is the Oamaru Mail where I started my journalism career.

. . . In a memo to staff, APN describes the decision to quit the twice-weekly giveaway Christchurch paper, The Star, the Oamaru Mail and a clutch of other small, community titles in the South Island and Wellington as a “strategic decision to consolidate its publishing business in the North Island.”

The Star, published Wednesdays and Fridays, has an audited circulation of 71,644, while the Oamaru Mail is one of the country’s smallest, with a circulation of just 2,883. . .

The Mail was an evening paper when I worked for it, 30 years ago, and circulation was dropping then.

Competition from TV and more recently the internet and give away papers has further eroded its circulation.

A decision to make it a morning paper put it head to head with the Otago Daily Times which has fewer of the local and parish pump stories the Mail covers but a lot more other news and features.

There’s no mention of a price in the media release but APN will be dreaming if they’re asking for much.

Who would want to buy it?

There might be an entrepreneur out there looking for a challenge, and this would be a big one.

The Mail still provides a service for locals but a paper with low and declining circulation won’t be an attractive business proposition.


RIP NZPA

August 31, 2011

The New Zealand Press Association, our only national news agency, will close today after 131 years supplying news stories to media outlets throughout the country.

Writing in April about the proposed closure Karl du Fresne called it a seriously retrograde step:

NZPA has fulfilled an historically significant role – one that remains valid even in the digital era. When it was launched in 1880, NZPA had the effect of bringing New Zealand together. For the first time, via the telegraph, New Zealanders had ready access to news and information from beyond their own regions. Historians have credited this with creating a sense of national cohesion in place of the narrow, regional parochialism that previously prevailed. At its peak, 74 member newspapers subscribed to the NZPA service, which gave them access to news of importance supplied by other member papers from all over the country.

Competition between APN and Fairfax which own most of our newspapers will determine how much we lose or gain from NZPA’s demise.


All the news and just the news

April 7, 2011

When I started working for a newspaper continuous feeds from the New Zealand Press Association kept us up with what was going on in New Zealand and around the world.

They gave us the news – just the news without comment or bias -and all the news. If it happened and mattered, NZPA reported it and it was up to newsrooms all over the country to use it as it was or give it a local angle, or not,  as we chose.

The decision by Fairfax Media to withdraw from NZPA is concerning.

Kiwiblog says: 

I think the decision is a disaster for parliamentary reporting, and bad for the overall news industry.

NZPA are the one news agency in Parliament that cover every bill before the House. When other media are safely home in bed, there will be a NZPA reporter noting what time the House rose, and what bill was being debated at the time. Likewise on select committees, they are often the only news agency there (apart from the excellent Select Committee News, which is subscription only).

What I also liked about NZPA is they complement the other press gallery agencies. The other agencies naturally focus on stories which sell – which will make for good television, can run on a front page etc. But NZPA are not about “sexy” stories. They just faithfully produce concise factual and relevant stories about what happened – reporters in the old fashioned sense.  And not just about Parliament, also from the courts and elsewhere. . .

Dim Post says:

It seems to have been standard practise in news rooms for time immemorial, for journalists and news editors to take a PA story and stick their own by-line on it and publish it, so PAs footprint on the media landscape is even larger than it may have seemed; even the media executives who closed it down after a hundred and thirty years probably don’t realise quite what they’ve destroyed.

 He also notes that NZPA is the only news outlet which isn’t dependent on advertising and  Peter Griffin says the closure of NZPA would hurt science:

The death of NZPA is really the end of an era in New Zealand journalism. NZPA for over one hundred years has been the agency of record for breaking news stories. Newspapers might write more fulsome and colourful accounts than NZPA produces, but the agency can be counted on for serving up short, concise, timely and generally accurate news alerts on a wide range of subjects – from general news and politics, to business sport and science.

A few weeks back I sat in NZPA editor Kevin Norquay’s office to talk about that last topic – science. NZPA is a bastion of decent coverage of science-related issues in New Zealand and that is largely down to one individual – NZPA veteran reporter Kent Atkinson. Part of the reason for my visit was to thank NZPA for its commitment to covering science issues and giving Kent the leeway to pursue a round he loves. . .

The great thing about NZPA is its reach. A decent science story, or any story for that matter, can run in numerous daily metropolitan and regional newspapers. While Stuff and the Herald Online will pile in to cover the populist stories – Darren Hughes’ night time exploits, the plastic waka etc , often with rolling coverage during the day, NZPA can be relied on to fill in the blind spots, with dispassionate reports. That safety net of coverage will soon be gone for our major mainstream news organisations. . .

But where some see a threat others see an opportunity:

In response, Fairfax’s main rival, APN, announced it would establish a new national news service to “counter the Fairfax move”, its chief executive Martin Simons said.

“We will have discussions with key NZPA staff and work with New Zealand’s independent publishers to tailor a news service to meet the nation’s content needs.”

The Otago Daily Times already shares content with APN titles such as The New Zealand Herald. This alliance was important to strengthen the company’s South Island bases in Christchurch and Oamaru, Mr Simons said.

Until 2006, New Zealand newspapers shared stories through NZPA, but commercial tension between Fairfax and APN forced NZPA to become an independent news source.

Allied Press managing director Julian Smith said, depending on the review, it was likely Allied Press, which publishes the Otago Daily Times, owns numerous southern community newspapers and has an interest in the Greymouth Star, would join the APN-led service.

The new service would be more like NZPA’s original model of newspapers sharing all content and could lead to an improvement in quality, he said.

I hope he’s right.

The internet gives us access to more news than ever before but unlike NZPA it isn’t always just the news which we can trust to be factual and unbiased.

Without an organisation like NZPA it won’t be all the news either.

UPDATE: Karl du Fresne calls it a seriously retrograde step and says:

Even more worrying is that the existing “black holes” in news coverage will become wider and blacker still. Under the old co-operative model, NZPA had the entire country covered . . .

The net result is that New Zealanders will know less about themselves. Parts of the country that have already faded from view since 2005 because of attenuated news coverage may become damned-near invisible, other than when a catastrophe occurs (as at Pike River).

Try as I might, I can’t see this as anything other than a seriously retrograde step. If the creation of NZPA in 1880 helped bind the country together, then its demise is likely to have the reverse effect. . .

Already sparse national coverage of provincial and rural news will become sparser.

The media is one of the bridges over the urban-rural divide and the death of NZPA will tear up several of its planks.


Oamaru Mail goes online

December 1, 2009

The Oamaru Mail has gone online.

That was the paper which gave me my first job when I graduated from Canterbury University’s journalism school.

I wasn’t over enthusiastic about returning to the town I’d grown up in but it gave me a lot of experience I wouldn’t have got as a new reporter elsewhere. While classmates who started work on bigger papers got all the little stories I had three rounds of my own – farming, health and social welfare. I also had to do court and local body reporting when the chief reporter was away.

It was election year – 1981 – and among the people I interviewed were then deputy leader of the Labour Party, David Lange, and its president Jim Anderton.

The day the Prime Minister, Rob Muldoon was in town, Social Credit was having a meeting in Waimate. I had to go there to interview Bruce Beetham while the chief reporter covered Muldoon. 

The paper edition of the Mail is published Monday to Friday and it’s part of APN’s stable of regional newspapers.

Others are: Northern Advocate, The Aucklander, Bay of Plenty Times, Rotorua Daily Post, Hawkes Bay TodayStratford Press, Wairarapa Times-Age, Wanganui Chronicle and Star Canterbury.


ODT re-launches on-line

May 29, 2008

There are a few disadvantages to life in the country, one of which is that our newspapers are delivered with the mail which doesn’t arrive until anywhere from 1ish to after 3. By this time we’ve usually caught up with national, international and big regional and local stories from radio, TV or the net.

 I’d suggested to the previous editor that because of this rural subscribers ought to be able to get free, or heavily subsidised access to the digital edition but was told that would down-grade the product for other subscribers.

 I happened to be speaking with ODT political editor Dene McKenzie a few weeks ago and said because of that we were thinking of stopping the paper and subscribing to the digital edition instead. He told me to wait because a new editor, Murray Kirkness, had a  different view and the paper was going to re-launch itself on-line. It has and introduces itself here.

 The digital revolution has just taken another turn for Otago Daily Times readers with the launch today of www.odt.co.nz, an open and free source of local, national, international and sports news.

 We’ll update constantly throughout the day, bringing you the latest national and local news as well as features from throughout our region, New Zealand and the world.

And, of course, it’s all about you. We have designed the site for you, our readers. Now you can interact with the ODT in many exciting and different ways. So, let’s have a conversation at www.odt.co.nz

You’ll be able to comment on stories, vote in polls, send us your photographs, create your own news stories.

Your opinions will help shape the news as never before.

Don’t be scared to contact us. We want both your feedback and your contributions _ stories, photos, events – and we now have the cyberspace to publish what we receive.

The ODT is rightly known for the depth of our local coverage, and we’ll carry that even further online.

Not only will we replicate online the hyper-local stories found in the Regions section of the print edition, but the site takes this further with a unique Your Town section.

Most of the towns in our area get their own home-page, complete with news stories, photographs, events, photo slideshows and weather.

The Southland Times competes with the ODT in Central Otago and further south but there is only one other local paper in the region The Oamaru Mail (owned by APN). It used to be an afternoon paper but is now printed in Ashburton in the morning so the only reason for getting it rather than the ODT has been for the parish-pump stories which will now be on line.

We have also taken into account the importance of tertiary students to the region by creating an On Campus section, complete with news, photo slideshows, blogs and a gig guide.

In spite of giving away subscriptions at orientation students most students don’t read papers, but may use the on-line version more.

 

Elsewhere on the site, our sport coverage will be as comprehensive as ever, ranging from grassroots local games to the most up-to-date news and results from around the globe.

For world news we have signed a partnership with international news giant Associated Press to deliver the latest news and photographs from throughout the world. Wherever news happens, AP is there, and we will be there with them.

We aim to provide depth as well as breadth. Make sure to check out our Opinion and Business section for independent thought and analysis.

Our bloggers will provide a slightly different flavour of opinion, but will certainly be entertaining.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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