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 

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.

Fairfax rates Key generously

Fairfax has rated twenty seven MPs in Front bench report 2014’s winners and losers.

I think John Key’s rating is generous.

John Key: 8.5/10 Secured a sweeping third victory in the teeth of the Dirty Politics allegations and still the party’s most important asset. But has been in danger of breaching his own directive against arrogance, by ducking questions and defending his conversations with WhaleOil blogger Cameron Slater. Feels perverse to ask after such a big win, but is the gloss starting to wear off?

The “sweeping third victory” probably had more to do with a backlash against Kim Dotcom than Key’s performance, which has been patchy and at times poor.

National have been steady under English’s financial management (at least as much as an asset as Key) rather than outstanding.

While I agree with Key’s flagship policy – we should have a chance to decide if we want to retain or change our flag – it’s hardly a major legacy type policy.

Key has to lift his performance and lift his ambitions if he’s to rate more than “was popular and did ok apart from some crap”.

I’d rate him 6/12 for this year’s lumpy effort, with definite room for improvement.

More on Norman versus Trans Tasman and Fairfax

Russel Norman had a hissy at Fairfax yesterday for publishing Trans Tasman MP ratings, especially of Cath Delahunty. See Russel Norman versus Trans Tasman.

David Farrar also comments on this in Norman attacking the media:

So we have a party leader publicly berating a journalist because the journalist wrote a story on the ratings. Really? Isn’t this what a certain other party leader used to do in the 1970s? As for the smearing of Trans-Tasman as “far right” (a term used in Europe to describe neo-nazis), that’s idiotic. Certainly it is a business publication and like the NBR has an editorial tone that is pro-business. But it is no more “far right” than Radio NZ is “far left”.

There are lots of ratings different people will have different views on. You would expect a party leader to say he disagrees with the ratings for his MPs. But to smear the newsletter as “far right” and berate a Fairfax journalist for daring to do a story on it is a form of bullying.

Attempted bullying.

Now he is hysterically claiming the newsletter “hates” his MP” because she is so effective, and is instructing the journalist to print his words.

But this isn’t so much about the rankings, but Norman’s behaviour. In the last two weeks we’ve had:

  • Norman lambasting a journalist for writing a story he didn’t like and demanding he print his views on his own MPs
  • Norman smearing a media newsletter as “far right”
  • Norman barging past the PM doing a media stand up and shrieking “Resign” at him
  • Norman using the 2014 post election review conference to effectively blame the SIS for the left losing the 2011 election

I should’t give free advice, but I think such behaviour is a big turn off. It’s an ugly look. He could have made a case for the Trans-Tasman ratings being too harsh on some of his MPs, without doing it as an attack on the media.

The pressure of a hard three years followed by a frustrating election campaign are taking a toll.

The next two lowest ranked Greens were men.

Steffan Browning 2.5
David Clendon 3.0 (equal with Jan Logie)

That seems reasonably gender balanced – not that gender should figure in performance ratings.

Norman didn’t complain about both him and Kevin Hague being rated higher than Metiria Turei.

And it’s not just Norman.

Danyl expanded on the Green attack at Dim Post.

Stuff has a cut’npaste story up on the TransTasman newsletter’s annual rankings of MPs, a yearly ritual in which a bunch of elderly right-wing journalists pour praise on their favorite right-wing politicians and scorn on their most despised left-wing enemies. Whatever.

But what struck me reading through the rankings is that there seemed like a big difference in scores between male and female MPs irrespective of any left-wing/right wing bias. Even female National MPs I rated quite highly were ranked lower than totally undistinguished male Nats. And it’s even worse for Maori, who all seem arbitrarily low regardless of party, or how well they perform.

The data breaks down like this: Average score for a Male Pakeha MP in the Transtasman ranking is 5.4. Males overall have an average ranking of 5.1. Pakeha overall average 5.1. Maori are way lower than Pakeha with average rankings of 4.6. Female MPs are way lower with an average ranking of 4.4. If you compile the rankings for Labour and the Greens, the men get an average ranking of 5.2, but the women are dragging them down with an average ranking of 4.4.

Here’s a list of the TransTasman writers. I’m informed that the sole contributors are the authors listed at the bottom of the report. You might not be shocked to learn that they are all white men. But what that means is that TransTasman’s inequality in their rankings and staggering bias towards Pakeha males has nothing to do with identity politics. See, identity politics is just something the left does to privilege women or Maori.

It’s a form of political correctness gone mad in which people value gender or ethnicity over actual merit, but when white guys get privileged, or when we coincidentally overwhelmingly favor other members of our race and gender that’s definitely nothing to do with identity politics. Or racism or misogyny. It’s always just because we all deserve it. Shame on you for doubting the analysis of the impartial, objective white guys at TransTasman!

He sounds as frustrated and bitter as Norman. As do some of the ranks at Dim-Post.

They can’t just disagree and offer their own ratings. Instead they attack the messengers.

If Fairfax took Norman’s advise and didn’t publish anything that could be seen as politically leaning then Green PR would be at least as verboten as Trans Tasman.

More bad poll news for Labour

The July Fairfax/IPSOS is out this morning and while it has a slight improvement for Labour they are only up to 24.9%.

There are some variations to the Roy Morgan moll that came out yesterday.

  • National 54.8% (down 1.7, Roy Morgan 51)
  • Labour 24.9% (up 1.7, Roy Morgan 23.5)
  • Greens 12.4% (up 0.5, Roy Morgan 15.0)
  • NZ First 2.6% (down 0.6, Roy Morgan 6.0)
  • Conservative 1.3% (up 0.4, Roy Morgan 1.0)
  • Mana 1.2% (no change, Roy Morgan Internet-Mana 1.5)
  • Maori Party 0.9% (up 0.2, Roy Morgan 1.0)
  • United Future 0.2% (up 0.2, Roy Morgan 0.5)
  • ACT 0.1% (down 0.6, Roy Morgan 0.5)

Tracey Watkins comments on the poll in Could National lose the unloseable?

The number of National voters contacted by our pollsters has not markedly changed since our last poll in June – the real movement is among Labour-leaning voters, who appear to have become a highly volatile bunch at this point in the electoral cycle.

And in the Stuff poll report National holds on to huge lead:

Today’s poll, which follows Labour’s recent election-year congress and a series of targeted announcements on education policy, shows more decided voters, with Labour clearly benefiting from the change.

But 15.3 per cent of voters still don’t know who they will vote for.

Analysis of other polls has indicated similar patterns of stable support for National and volatile support for Labour. Much may depend on whether support firms up for Labour in the poll that matters or if it deserts them.

And much may also depend on late swings to small parties, which can be a lottery for opportunists. There’s a big difference in results for NZ First and a notable difference for Greens between these two polls.


Click here for full graphics.

Roy Morgan results.

Fairfax/IPSOS – National 56, Labour 23

A very grim Fairfax IPSOS poll result for Labour:

– National 56.5% (+8.9)
– Labour 23.2% (-6.2)
– Greens 11.9% (-0.8)
– NZ First 3.2% (-0.5)
– Mana 1.2% (+0/7)
– Conservative 0.9% (-0.7)
– Maori Party 0.7% (-1.2)
– Act 0.7% (-0.2)
– United Future 0% (-0.1)

Internet-MANA combined – 2.1%

This sort of extreme poll result would normally be expected to come back into line later but polling was complete before yesterday’s news on Cunliffe and Liu.

National won’t be expecting to stay that high through to the election but Labour will be getting very worried.