Fairfax has killed the New Zealand Press Association, after more than 130 years of service providing straightforward, unsensational, generally independent bread-and-butter journalism to news outlets around the country. I’ve no heart to give a lecture on the importance of the role the agency played or the circumstances of its demise, so just read Karl du Fresne’s excellent backgrounder to this move, written last year. If you want an approximation of my views on the matter, reread some of my recent commentary on the NZ media — particularly the bits where I argue for competition through diversity — and then imagine a future without anyone to do the ‘heavy lifting’ of day-to-day news reporting, as Patrick Gower put it earlier today.
But I want to say a few things about the future. The fact is that something like the NZPA — some primary source for raw news — is needed. Press releases will continue to fulfil the role that they always have, and one immediate consequence of the end of NZPA is that journalists will now have to comprehend, research and rewrite PRs themselves or — depressingly — just publish them more or less verbatim. Either way, that means a decline in news quality and more churnalism.
So the media execs behind this decision who, in Danyl’s perceptive words, “probably donâ€™t realise quite what theyâ€™ve destroyed” know this to an extent — they know at least that the stories have to come from somewhere. I assume that they are aiming to leverage the endless horizon of social media, which has the considerable advantage of being free. Twitter, I fear, will be the major replacement for NZPA in the immediate New Zealand context. Journalists already do this to an extent — probably a greater extent than they should. While social media is important, and its role in news production is a live topic worthy of considerable discussion, it’s not any sort of substitute for a rigorous newsmaking system.
For another thing, Fairfax is an Australian company. As well as owning a large chunk of the New Zealand newspaper market (and enthusiastically presenting syndicated Australian content in its titles here), it is almost-half owner of the Australian Associated Press, a newswire service whose core business is rather like that of the NZPA (though AAP has in recent years expanded its role). If the gap in the New Zealand media market is sufficient that remaining independent content-provision agencies — such as Scoop and BusinessDesk — are unable to comprehensively fill it, it seems likely that AAP will do so. Given the pressure already exerted by overseas — and particularly Australian — newsmaking imperatives on our media ecology in New Zealand, I can’t see AAP’s potential involvement as anything but deleterious.
Disclosure: I work for Media Monitors, which competes with AAP in the Australian market (though not in the provision of wire content). The views expressed here are very emphatically my own.
I can haz moar press release infotainment now???
It will be interesting to see if fairfax and APN now hire more reporters to cover the gap, or just put the current staff under even more time pressure (leading to the easy option of more press release material as items).
Personally I’m picking maybe a token few at best moving from NZPA to new roles at Fairfax or APN and the rest out on the street.
INL was talking about closing NZPA several years ago as they owned almost all the newspapers anyway. Fairfax bought INL’s newspapers…and today we have Fairfax for most of New Zealand and APN’s NZ Herald for Auckland and whoever else wants to read it. The time to act was probably 30 years ago….to break up INL. If we need a diverse free press to ensure transparency, accountability and – ultimately – democracy….we don’t have one. What we have now is a plutocrat privilege enhancement engine through self-serving propagandising. Like the NZ Herald’s editorial about Judith Tizard’s list placing being a big problem for MMP…while the Herald has *completely* ignored First Past the Post prevented 62.5% of votes in Auckland’s Council elections from electing *anyone*. This is the sort of selective misrepresentation that serves the plutocrats….who hate democracy (and thus – MMP).
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