All the news and just the news

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.

3 Responses to All the news and just the news

  1. gravedodger says:

    While I understand your concern that is probably elevated by your background, I am somewhat sanguine about this development.

    With the degradation of the analytical ability of todays Journalists and their expanding use of “the press release” as hard news when in fact it is the carefully spun release by an experienced journalist to put the best possible light on that “news”, I can see why Fairfax have pulled the plug on their contribution to the NZPA.
    Also with the much expanded electronic recording and availability of activities such as parliament and local government and to a far lesser extent the judicial system where in the case of the latter two suppression is becoming the industry standard and reporting is constrained to the point of irrelevance, the need for the NZPA has been overtaken by events and is seen by the bean counters at Fairfax to be a cost they can cut.

    Specialised analysis such as you quoted above with Ken Atkinson will be a loss but he will go the same way that Old Richard Long, Oliver Riddell and co, into the long night of history.

    Whilst I understand the concerns at the likely demise of the wonderful institution that was the NZPA it is just a victim of “progress” and often Progress is not that at all but merely change and too often, not for the better.

    Like

  2. Richard says:

    Julian Smith is a very astute business person notwithstanding his languid public style and appearance. The ODT relies on NZPA as do other provincial papers.
    Julian’s brother Nick, is behind the revival of Christchurch Television.
    Let us hope that NZPA can be retained. It comes into my category of essential services

    Like

  3. bobux says:

    Glad to see that I am not the only fan of Kent Atkinson’s sober-minded science reporting.

    And I speak as one whom he has given a pretty severe grilling from time to time on various technical topics!

    Like

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