Bigger not better for media


Stuff and NZME have enlisted an unlikely ally in their quest to merge:

NZ First leader Winston Peters has thrown his support behind NZME buying rival news agency Stuff, saying such a deal is in the “national interest”.

NZME, publisher of the NZ Herald, has sought the Government’s support to buy Stuff, which is owned by Australian media company Nine.

The proposal is being considered by Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister Kris Faafoi.

Peters today threw his weight behind NZME’s proposal saying it “is in the greater public interest and the national interest”. . . 

One of the commitments would be to keep a certain number of regional newspaper titles open, Peters said. Regional news was “as important as a hospital, as important as a school” in provincial areas. . . 

Business and media should know that if the government is the answer they’ve asked the wrong question.

Newspapers have been losing readers for decades and all mainstream media is struggling with so much competition from online news sources, but the answer is not for newspaper companies to get bigger, it is for them to get smaller and more local, as Karl du Fresne, writing about the Wairarapa Times-Age, said:

. . .if any papers could survive in the new media environment, it would be those that specialised in local news. Not only is local news important to people because it directly affects them in their daily lives, but it’s also the segment of the market that has been least disrupted by the internet. If you want local news, you must get it from a local provider. . . 

If the success of the Oamaru Mail is an example, smaller and more local is a far better way to go.

I started my journalism career on the Oamaru Mail way back when it was a daily paper and the first in the country to use computer printing.

It is now a weekly give-away, and its healthy size is evidence that it has the support of readers and the advertisers that fund it.

Its owned by Allied Press which also owns the Otago Daily Times (ODT), the only privately owned daily paper in New Zealand.

The Oamaru Mail succeeds because it concentrates on local news, written by people who live in and know the district it serves, its people and issues.

The ODT is following other daily papers with a drop in circulation, but it’s losing readers at a much slower rate than those owned by the companies wanting to merge.

One reason for the slower decline is that its hatched, matched and dispatched advertisements are available in the paper on the digital edition, not the free online version. This ensures older readers keep buying it.

Another reason is that it too has teams of local reporters throughout its circulation area ensuring that local stories get good coverage with the national and international news and views.

Rather than allowing the two big companies to merge and become even bigger while attempting to keep local papers alive by insisting some regional titles stay open, it would be better to sell the smaller titles and let them thrive as local papers, with local staff covering local issues for their local communities.

Oamaru Mail goes online


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.

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