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.

Another media merger

A major shake up of media and communications in New Zealand builds as Sky TV and Vodaphone announce plans to merge. This follows proposals to merge NZME and Fairfax.

Fran O’Sullivan writes: Media marriages leave rest looking for partners

Yesterday, Sky TV and Vodafone painted their merger proposal as a “strategic partnership of equals”.

The concept was remarkably similar to that used by NZME and Fairfax when they unveiled their plan last month.

Except the commercial bogeymen differ: Google and Facebook are the disruptors changing the game for the publishers. When it comes to NZ’s pay TV operator (and its telco partner) Netflix is a key threat.

She says it won’t be business as usual in a rapidly evolving media market.

Yesterday, it was “business as usual” at Spark NZ as it pushed the line that the Vodafone/Sky TV move simply formalised and deepened that existing partnership.

It won’t be BAU – the rapid changing media and telco environment makes that concept an absurdity and convergence a reality. What is clear is the two proposed media marriages lessen the merger options for remaining players.

Clearly, MediaWorks’ is in play. But it would be naive to think that the chess board has not also changed for TVNZ and RNZ.

MediaWorks has had ongoing problems. Options are limited for TVNZ and RNZ as they are state owned.

New Zealand media companies are finding the competition tough, with strong competition for paid content and advertising from international companies.

If allowed to merge it will be a major change for both Sky and Vodaphone. Sky in particular will have to change what they offer and how they offer it significantly to stem a loss of customers.

I dumped my Sky subscription a year ago, sick of paying so much when I didn’t want most of the content they insisted I have in order to get what I wanted.

Later in the year they offered a special half price deal for 12 months, which I took up.

This reminded me that the majority of Sky channels were of little or no interest to me. I don’t want to pay for things I don’t want. So if Sky try to get me to continue on an exorbitant subscription for that I’ll opt out again.

There are now many options for broadcast and streamed entertainment and news. I’m not going to commit to a bunch of ongoing subscriptions. I want to pick what I want – I’m happy to pay for that.

Sky has chosen to restructure their business model. They will also have to restructure their marketing model if they want to stem the losses of their share of the market.

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

Cullen on virtual merger of GCSB and SIS

The security review was forbidden from suggesting a merger of our two spy agencies, SIS and GCSB, but it has gone as far as it can in recommending much closer links between the two.

Claire Trevett: A proposed ‘civil union’ of two intelligence agencies

Sir Michael Cullen has never been one to mince words so when he was asked why he and Dame Patsy Reddy had not simply recommended a merger of the two intelligence agencies, he was blunt: it was because the Government had not allowed it under the terms of reference.

That didn’t stop him recommending what amounts to a merger in all but name, which will see the GCSB and SIS remain technically separate entities but controlled by the same legislation with very similar powers – it was, as Dr Cullen said “a civil union”.

The most controversial aspect of it is likely to be the recommendation to allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders without requiring a warrant to do so on the behalf of other parties. It breaks a longstanding split between the SIS and GCSB under which the GCSB could only spy on foreigners and the SIS on New Zealanders.

The examples Dr Cullen gave of the virtue of extending that to the GCSB were rather sympathetic to his own case – he spoke of a New Zealander lost at sea and said the GCSB would not be able to use its cellphone tracking technology to find that person because they were a New Zealander.

In reality the split of powers had become increasingly redundant anyway. The review team also proposed a strong authorisation process to ensure there was not indiscriminate spying. In reality that split of powers had become increasingly redundant.

Sir Michael pointed out the SIS had the power to spy domestically but the GCSB had the technology to do so. In terms of the difference in the technology between the two, he said “it’s really a question of can you use Snicko and Hawkeye or can’t you in order to establish whether there was a no ball?”

Dr Cullen argued it was not a vast expansion of powers, but rather an attempt to clear up the current conflict for the GCSB. The legislation covering the GCSB already allows it to spy on behalf of other agencies with a warrant. One of Dr Cullen’s more surprising admissions was that despite the attempt to change the GCSB’s legislation to specify when it could spy on New Zealanders, the GCSB had only become more hesitant to do so. That happened after it was found to have unlawfully spied on more than 100 people due to confusion over its powers when acting on behalf of other agencies.

Dr Cullen said the GCSB and it had become overly cautious in the wake of that controversy to an extent it was impacting on its work. That had, he argued, almost put the Government in a position of failing in its duty to protect the lives of New Zealanders.

In short the review recommends a simplification of multiple laws, clarification of what powers the SIS and especially the GCSB have, and better oversight.

If the recommendations are followed – and they will need the approval of both National and Labour at least – it could leave two separate agencies but in practice sets up a virtual merger.

Balancing the need for effective security with the privacy of individuals will continue to be contentious.