ComCom and Dominion don’t get it

Today’s Dominion Post editorial complains The Commerce Commission doesn’t get it

Do they?

The ground is moving under journalism companies everywhere. Readers are migrating in their hordes to the web, with its endless flood of information.

Newspapers are fighting for survival, and news websites, even the most prominent, struggle to compete with the ravenous global attention-grabbers – the Facebooks and the Googles.

These are all banalities by now. It is a shame for New Zealand that the Commerce Commission has not properly grappled with them.

Fairfax needs to do a lot better grappling with the real problems facing media in New Zealand.

It ought to have seen how massive the media challenge ahead is – and allowed the companies to join, to give them a fighting chance of pushing on for years to come. Instead, it looked to the past

Bigger and bigger media companies is from the past to perhaps.

The Commission took a far too rosy view of the near future, banking on newspapers’ survival, lethargy from the broadcasters, and the continued success of the companies’ websites. But the market is in a state of near-constant upheaval.

So more innovative change is required than merging into a bigger company. That won’t address the problems – unless Fairfax and NZME thought it would enable them to just put up a pay wall. That could easily be a disaster.

Media merger canned by ComCom

The Commerce Commission yesterday confirmed it would not allow the merger of Fairfax and NZME. There was a quick and anguished response from many journalists, with some exceptions – understandable when their jobs and the future of journalism and news in New Zealand is at stake.

NZ Herald’s editorial today unsurprisingly complains about the decision: Blocking this merger is a big mistake

The Commerce Commission’s refusal to permit a merger of New Zealand’s two newspaper-based media companies is a fateful one for the supply of news and information in this country.

The commission’s decision is wrong, we believe, because it appears to believe the status quo is an option. It is not.

The merger proposed between our proprietor, NZME, and Fairfax, owner of other metropolitan dailies, was a considered response to a rapidly changing commercial environment.

But it’s not clear what a combined media company would have done to address the huge challenges facing traditional media, apart from allowing them to cut some staff and make some cost savings. If they did nothing else it would have probably just delayed the inevitable.

Everywhere in the world, companies that have invested in gathering and publishing news and information of public interest have been losing advertising revenue to the internet, with its facility for targeting audiences more precisely and offering auctions online.

If this revenue was going instead to support online journalism it would be less of a worry, though online advertising has yet to produce the earnings required to maintain the news gathering resources that newspaper advertising so long sustained.

The greater problem today is that too much of the advertising is going to the likes of Google and Facebook that do not do any news gathering of their own.

In fact they cannibalise the costly news gathering, features and investigative work of newspapers, broadcasters and websites that create their own content.

But a larger company would  have done nothing to deal with how Google and Facebook are siphoning off a large amount of advertising revenue without spending much on news gathering or journalism.

The merger was proposed for that purpose. Blocking it does not remove the problem or make it any less necessary for the industry to cut costs and find news to survive.

So they admit the merger didn’t really address the problem.

This newspaper will survive in print as well as digital form so long as readers value it, but that cannot be said for all newspapers in New Zealand.

Sadly, fewer newspapers might now survive than a merger might have sustained.

That seems to signal a threat to the smaller regional newspapers owned by NZME.

Reliable news – factual information published under the name of news services that have a reputation to protect.

Without them, democracy will be left with rumour, speculation and political and commercial promotions. That is our fate if the news business fails.

A problem is that rumour, speculation and political and commercial promotions are rife in media already. When the going got tough to much media got trashier and more opinionated.

Blaming the Commerce Commission won’t address that.

Also at the Herald Fran O’Sullivan says Media merger should be buried:

The proposed NZME-Fairfax merger is effectively dead and should now be buried instead of chewing up more time and funds in legal appeals.

Then both NZME and Fairfax Media can concentrate on their own quite divergent media strategies and examine other partnership options to reach the scale that is necessary to successfully play in the big pond with Facebook and Google.

NZME is also in a stronger position than in was when the merger application was announced a year ago. It has disengaged from its former Australian parent company, listed on the stock exchange in both countries and posted credible financial results.

This does not shield the company from the challenges posed by Facebook and Google. But it does place it in a stronger position for the next marriage attempt.

Why look for another marriage? A lot more radical thinking is required, propping up a dead media model won’t work.

Fairfax-NZME merger ruling today

The Commerce Commission will be announcing it’s decision this morning on whether Fairfax and NZME will be allowed to merge.

If allowed this would combine most of the country’s newspapers into one company, as well as the Stuff and NZ herald websites.

Stuff: Regulator set to rule on Fairfax, NZME merger

Publishers Fairfax New Zealand and NZME will find out on Wednesday whether the Commerce Commission will let them join forces.

If the merger is allowed, what would the combined company own?

The Stuff and NZ Herald websites, almost all of the country’s major newspapers with the exception of The Otago Daily Times, a raft of community newspapers and magazines, and about half the country’s commercial radio stations, including Newstalk ZB, The Hits and ZM.

It would also own daily-deals site GrabOne, video entertainment site WatchMe and majority stakes in fast-growing community site Neighbourly and internet provider Stuff Fibre.

The traditional media business model has been under severe pressure for years due to the competition introduced by widespread Internet use and dramatically diminished advertising revenues. Online advertising is dominated by Google and Facebook.

And printed newspapers are struggling to survive.

It’s easier to do crosswords online now as well as get a wide variety of news.

Whatever the decision today NZME and Fairfax face challenging futures.

Regardless of the decision this may not be the end of it.

If the ruling is ‘yes’, could it be appealed?

All the interested parties that attended a Commerce Commission conference in December would have the right to appeal.

They include Television New Zealand, Three-owner MediaWorks, and Allied Press, which owns The Otago Daily Times.

However, the costs and risks involved mean an appeal might not be a given.

And if the ruling is ‘no?

Fairfax NZ and NZME could appeal and may already have identified possible grounds.

Those grounds centre on whether it can reject an application solely because of concerns that it can’t put a value on, like media diversity.

But the appeals process on a point of legal principle could go on for years. Both companies told the commission in March that when it came to the merger “later will be too late”.

Lawyers may fiddle while newspapers burn.

Media an extension of established power

There is an obvious and major current example of media and journalism working with and enabling established power, in the US election.

It’s nothing new that media both had close connections with the Hillary Clinton campaign, and tried to influence the outcome. Or that other media had close connections with the Donald Trump campaign and tried to influence the outcome.

What is unusual and more complicated is that media, including those who promoted Clinton’s interests, also gifted  exposure to Trump, and enabled his rise and his momentum, and ultimately his success.

There was a clear conflict between what the media wanted – their choice of candidate as president, but they also wanted the headlines and clicks that Trump kept giving them.

A lot of the time it was difficult to separate Clinton’s and Trump’s campaigns from the media coverage.

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The US presidential election was a big event, but on a smaller scale the New Zealand media also works hand in hand with established power, and actively excludes those who challenge established power.

I’ve experienced this myself, and it was a public broadcaster that was involved. In the 2013 Dunedin mayoral campaign Radio New Zealand profiled just four of the nine candidates – that is. gave exposure and publicity to less than half the candidates.

I complained to RNZ in Dunedin and was told they selected the candidates they thought had the most chance of success. Of course this favouritism reinforces the advantages of established power, and makes it virtually impossible for challengers of that power. Ironically I was campaigning for better democratic processes.

I also complained to RNZ in Wellington. They were very dismissive, when pushed said that more candidates “didn’t fit their format” and effectively told me to get stuffed, they weren’t interested in fair democracy.

Similar things happen in every general election, where big media give big exposure to big power, and exclude others. This is common with leaders’ debates.

And the same thing is happening in the Mt Roskill by-election right now. Fairfax has already run a candidate debate that only includes established power, the Labour and National candidates.

On Wednesday: People’s Party threatens legal action over exclusion from Mt Roskill debate

The newly formed People’s Party is considering taking legal action because it’s been excluded from a Mt Roskill by-election debate on Wednesday night.

It’s being hosted by the Central Leader, which has only invited the candidates from National and Labour. 

People’s Party leader Roshan Nauhria says he’s not being petty; he just wants a fair go.

“We were trying to talk to them and convince them that you need to give us equal opportunity,” he says.

Fairfax Media brand and communications manager Phillipa Cameron told Newshub that “Fairfax is comfortable that the Central Leader will provide appropriate coverage of parties involved in the Mt Roskill by-election”.

“This particular event is a one-off live stream involving the two major political parties, which is typical of a debate style event,” she said.

Typical of a debate style event where Fairfax are favouring established power. It is a corruption of fair democratic practice.

There was a follow up – Fairfax apologises for Mt Roskill debate snub

Fairfax has apologised to New Zealand People’s Party candidate Roshan Nauhria for excluding him from a by-election debate it is hosting in Mt Roskill on Wednesday.

But he’s still not invited.

Mr Nauhria says Fairfax told him it made the call to only include the candidates from Labour and National because both had polled above 10 percent at the last election.

A very hollow apology – effectively ‘we are sorry, we set the ten percent bar to favour established power and if you challenge that power and our power you can get stuffed’.

All candidates are equal, but some candidates are made far more equal than others.

Newshub points out:

The People’s Party held its official campaign launch on Saturday night drawing a crowd of around 300 people. In comparison, the National Party candidate’s campaign launch held on the same day, with the Prime Minister in attendance, attracted a crowd of just over 200.

That’s an impressive crowd for the People’s Party, but even that shouldn’t matter. What if a candidate does most of their campaigning online?

On a smaller scale than in the US, but this is exposure of New Zealand media being a corrupt extension of established power.

Paying for decent journalism

Strong journalism is essential in a strong democracy, but in some respects at least it appears that serious journalism is going down the gurgler.

Even attempts at serious journalism are questionable. Multiple news organisations put significant resources over the last couple of weeks into trying to analyse and report on the Panama papers.

Newsrooms cried wolf, in collaboration with a political activist, and seemingly in collaboration with opposition parties.

The result was overblown, a public turn off and proved and probably achieved very little.

Big news this week (amongst journalists) was the proposed merger of Fairfax Media and APN. Who knows whether that will turn journalism around or just dump a few more reporters on the scrapheap, reduce choice and impose paywalls (which will probably reduce choice further).

Today’s ODT editorial: Adapt, collaborate, or die?

Now of course, in the digital age, there is the expectation from the public that journalists will be everywhere, at all hours, that news, entertainment and opinion should be accessible at the touch of a screen, on a variety of platforms, online, live and instantaneous.

The mediums have changed. Technology has made news-gathering and presentation exciting, innovative, fast-paced, constantly evolving and challenging. It certainly does not allow for complacency, the enemy of good journalism.

Sadly, what has changed is that today’s “audiences” want and expect everything immediately – and for nothing. If they can’t get it for free, they’ll go somewhere they can.

But if good journalism is not valued, there is a huge cost – to media companies, and ultimately to the public they serve. The public often bemoan what is perceived as dropping standards of journalism, yet it is fuelling the change.

As long as the watchdog role of the fourth estate is undervalued in every sense, the democratic ideals of transparency and accountability are at risk. The ultimate winners of this race to the bottom? Those already at the top, who are striving to stay there: the Government, churches, judiciary, police, army, big business.

If a merger allows the new major entity to put up a paywall for digital content, it may safeguard its future – and that of others seeking to do the same, such as this newspaper.

We all need to go back to the future to a certain extent: back to valuing journalism and the work that goes into producing content – and back to paying for it (on whatever platform). Now more than ever, in an age of spin doctors, gatekeepers and public relations staff, we need a healthy, competent, independent and well-resourced media.

The ODT is keen on paywalled news, I thought they had announced they would have moved to subscription news by now.

How much is decent journalism worth?

I used to subscribe to the ODT but stopped that last year when I realised I was hardly ever reading it. I do most of my reading online.

I guess I pay indirectly by having to navigate a mass of advertising online – but I can’t remember if I have ever bought something prompted by an online advertisement.

I’m very practised at ignoring them and I don’t impulse shop anyway. I’m far more inclined towards research shopping online, comparing products and prices, looking for reviews and opinions.

I have subscribed to Consumer online for this purpose, but occasionally  ponder whether that’s good value for money. I think I probably get a return on that investment.

I have subscribed to a couple of overseas publications but underutilised them and am unlikely to do it again, probably.

The problem for me with paying for a print subscription for online access to the ODT is that it would only be a small part of my news sourcing.

If a joint APN/Fairfax media also paywalled that would be an additional cost – and I would still want to view other news sources.

One of the key things I do is research across multiple sources, and I don’t feel inclined to subscribe to a heap of them. Publicly funded and free (currently) RNZ would get more attractive, but I would want much wider coverage.

I value good journalism and good news, and detest a lot of the media junk food.

I’m an on again off again subscriber to Sky and hate all the crap and self promotion (advertising on a subscription service).

I don’t think a bunch of separate news subscriptions are the answer. Especially when they want print prices for online access, that just doesn’t add up to me.

I would happily pay something for good journalism and good news and analysis, up to a point.

But I have seen nothing yet that attracts my custom.

And I really have no idea what would. I haven’t seen any yet that’s attractive.

I’d really like to hear other opinions on this. I think it’s an important issue with no obvious or easy answers.

Name the merged media company

It was confirmed today that talks are under way of a possible merger between Fairfax and NZME, two of New Zealand’s largest media companies and in control of many of the country’s newspapers.

I have concerns about this if it goes ahead. Monopoly media is not good for news, analysis or democracy.

And there’s talk that the pay wall stand off between the two will disappear so news will be by subscription. That’s the choice of companies but it will reduce access to a major chunk of news.

But on the lighter side:

Best Fairfax [Stuff] and NZME media merger names via @caffeine_addict

  • FaxMe
  • F-Me
  • StuffMe

Some more:

  • Heruff
  • Stuffald

Any more?

UPDATE: Emmerson with a similar idea, put more graphically:

The one that didn’t pass the taste test – now ok’d by Ed for use here

Political polling in New Zealand

Last week Andrew at Grumpollie posted his thoughts on The future of polling in New Zealand.

His latest post suggests that the future is not looking bright: Are we down to three polls in NZ?

So, DigiPoll has shut up shop, and I haven’t seen a poll out of Fairfax in a long time.

Digipoll’s website is still up but I can’t find them in the news since early January. The last Herald-Digipoll was  4-14 December 2015.

The last Fairfax-IPSOS poll that I can find is just prior to the last election, 13-17 September 2014. IPSOS is still operating in Australia but seem to have given up with New Zealand polling.

Are we down to just three polls now? (Newshub, ONE News, and Roy Morgan.)

That’s how it looks – see Opinion polling for the next New Zealand general election.

This is not good at all, if true. With less data, it’s harder to develop new methodological and analytical approaches to polling.

It’s not good for pollsters and for political junkies but I’m not sure if most people would care.

There are two other polling companies I’m aware of, Curia and UMR. The problem with them is they do ‘internal polling’ for National and Labour respectively so their polls aren’t made public.

That leads to an issue that is worth a separate post – see Polling and better democracy.

Cartoonists and when amateurs try broadcasting news

There’s a much wider range of people breaking news these days, or trying to. Trying to beat the crowd or beat up on the enemy a bit too hastily has risks.

On Wednesday at 1.12 pm Bryce Edwards tweeted:

Fairfax shocker: most cartoonists being sacked. Fairfax provincial papers to become uniform with 1 cartoonist.

The next morning at The Standard – Then they came for the cartoonists

Written By:   Date published:11:34 am, June 17th, 2015
Categories: cartoons, Media – Tags: , 

Kill off Campbell Live. Drive Mihingarangi Forbes out of Maori TV. Sack a bunch of sub-editors. Then they came for the cartoonists…

They displayed Edward’s tweet plus another:

The death-march to a ‘platform’ of ‘user generated-content’ and royal baby photos continues https://twitter.com/bryce_edwards/status/610902786943815681 

There are currently 58 comments on that thread, all rubbishing the current state of Fairfax and the media in general.

But The Standard, Mclauchlan and all the commenters seem to have failed to check the story further, and ioncluding failing to notice a continuation of Edwards’ twitter exchange.

?? Last changes to cartooning were last year and reflected a decision by editors to choose the best for readers.

Boucher is Executive Editor for Fairfax Media.

I’m going on what 2 reliable Fairfax insiders have told me today. But is saying the cartoonists are all safe

Last revision of cartoonists was a year ago and nothing current planned or being discussed.

So that was a clear denial of any changes to cartoonists from Fairfax’s Executive Editor and will have been noted by Edwards.

And also on Wednesday:

We’ve confirmed our new newsroom plans today. 159 roles to go and 174 new editorial jobs created. We’re hiring at ,

But Mclauchlan and in particular The Standard repeated the story anyway, the following day. And there’s no sign of any correction – they may still not know the story looks like being false.

The alternatives to old media aren’t filling the vacuum very well yet.

Bloggers rushing to reinforce their agendas with whatever pops up will probably never be a great replacement.

Fairfax ditches editors, moves more online

Fairfax media have announced changes that involve centralisation of editors and more emphasis on online interaction, moving further from print media and local input.

Non-Fairfax journalists are not very complimentary.

Everything about this decision is fucked in the head

Agreed. It started with subbing hubs and has got progressively worse.

Feels like a new low…replacing journalism, news, writing with “digital”. Ugh!

And that Stuff nation gets staffing ahead of the sort of journalism that used to define a masthead

Predict that within 12 months their NZ operation will be reduced to 3 people writing clickbait headlines.

NBR explain the changes in Fairfax Media rolls out new newsroom model:

Fairfax Media New Zealand is rolling out a new model for its newsrooms nationwide and regional newspaper editors are disappearing in favour of regional editorial managers based in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Fairfax Media says it will have larger teams working on video, social media and the Stuff Nation website, which asks readers to contribute stories.

“We’re investing in our people and systems to reinvigorate our newsrooms, strengthening our ability to deliver news and information,” Sinead Boucher, Fairfax Media’s executive editor, said in a statement.

Journalists will package their stories with video, images and links to encourage interaction with readers in an editorial and production process that will be driven first by the needs of digital platforms rather than traditional printed products.

So interaction will take precedence over journalistic quality?

Seven jobs are being disestablished and 12 new senior roles are being created, focusing on audiences in local regions or in specialist content areas.

The restructuring involves a reshuffle of senior managers, according to industry sources. The role of newspaper editor has been slowly disappearing and three editorial managers work below Ms Boucher, one for the Auckland region, one for Wellington and one for Christchurch. These direct reports to Ms Boucher are former newspaper editors who now have a wider regional role.

The roles disappearing are expected to be editors in smaller regional centres.

Television ‘news’ overage in the regions has already been severely downgraded by centralisation (or Aucklandisation). Fairfax are downgrading their regional offices, inevitably downgrading their regional news news and minimising editorial input.

Under the newsroom changes journalists will edit each other’s stories.

Why bother? The PR hacks edit their stories before handing them over to journalists.

Fairfax Media has two national, nine daily and more than 60 community newspapers, 25 plus magazines, and publishes the websites Stuff and Essential Mums.

Three editors for all of that?

Kudos for Beehive Live

It won’t be Stuff’s most popular page but kudos to their Parliamentary blog Beehive Live. It provides a good insight into what is happening at Parliament. It started late last year but has been refined, now only running on sitting days.

Yesterday – Beehive Live: TPP on the agenda

It’s the last sitting day – and last question time – of the week.

There are a couple more select committees on this morning, with oral submissions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement at the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee.

Tune in here for live updates, newsbites and occasional weirdness, which can only be found in the halls of Parliament.

It provides an informall journal of key happenings in select committees and in the House on sitting days (I hope they run it on other days of particular political interest).

A number of Fairfax journalists contribute but the yoounger ones are more engaged, particularly Stacey Kirk and Aimee Gulliver.

They’re providing something interesting and worthwhile for political junkies and those who might be curious about Parliamentary process.

I think it’s good anyway.