Fairfax kills NZPA

April 7th, 2011 at 7:06 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald reports:

The New Zealand Press Association, which has supplied news to newspapers for more than 130 years, faces closure after one of its owners withdrew its support.

The Wellington-based news agency’s 40 staff heard last night that Media had given notice of pulling out of a co-operative ownership agreement with APN, publisher of the Herald, and independent newspaper companies.

’s board announced a review of the agency’s future, and a final decision is expected in a month.

Fairfax’s decision has one almost inevitable consequence – NZPA will close after 132 years, and New Zealand will jave no national news agency, such as AAP in Australia and AP in the US.

Fairfax seem to have not only killed off NZPA, but also stopped their staff from reporting on it. The one story on the Stuff website, reads like a Fairfax advertorial about why this is a good thing etc. No outside comment at all.

Very different to TVNZ. Often TVNZ is itself the news, and the TVNZ news department reports on that pretty much as they do for any other agency. Where are the Fairfax stories about the criticisms of their decision?

I think the decision is a disaster for parliamentary reporting, and bad for the overall news industry.

NZPA are the one news agency in Parliament that cover every bill before the House. When other media are safely home in bed, there will be a NZPA reporter noting what time the House rose, and what bill was being debated at the time. Likewise on select committees, they are often the only news agency there (apart from the excellent Select Committee News, which is subscription only).

What I also liked about NZPA is they complement the other press gallery agencies. The other agencies naturally focus on stories which sell – which will make for good television, can run on a front page etc. But NZPA are not about “sexy” stories. They just faithfully produce concise factual and relevant stories about what happened – reporters in the old fashioned sense.  And not just about Parliament, also from the courts and elsewhere.

This is partly why NZPA was so liked and respected by MPs and staff. In my 2009 survey of MPs and press secretaries on the press gallery, NZPA was rated the top agency.

NZPA also used to act as a pool, where member newspapers would share content with each other. This ended in 2006 – again due to Fairfax. Karl du Fresne has an excellent blog post from Jan 2010 on this. He noted:

What this all boils down to is that we know a lot less about ourselves.

As Ellis put it in his thesis, the information flows that help New Zealanders build and maintain a collective picture of themselves have been impaired.

NZPA has survived, but only as a shadow of its former self. It’s ironic that this profound change has happened with little public awareness and even less debate, but reporting on itself has never been one of the newspaper industry’s strengths.

The other sad aspect of the announcement is 40 or so NZPA journalists look to lose their jobs. I know a fair few of them, and they are are excellent reporters. NZPA Political Editor Peter Wilson is a national treasure. Peter’s been there for decades, and his weekly column (only carried in provincial papers) is a first class analysis of what is happening.

In the near future, Fairfax and APN won’t have the cost of NZPA anymore. I hope they see that as an opportunity to hire more journalists themselves to cover the gap NZPA will leave, and enhance their ability to cover important stories, even if not front page stories.

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17 Responses to “Fairfax kills NZPA”

  1. Viking2 (11,338 comments) says:

    If that means that the news services will have to do a proper job then all is good.
    Constantly publishing and repeating Govt. and Civil Service propaganda doesn’t make a news service and that’s what has happened to NZ News.

    AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY

    It was the British philosopher and MP Edmund Burke who first described the media as the “fourth estate”. During a parliamentary debate in 1787 to usher in press reporting of the House of Commons, he said: “There were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

    As the fourth estate, the media plays a crucial role in public affairs. Sitting alongside the other pillars of government, the Executive, Parliament, and the Judiciary, the media assumes a watchdog role, scrutinising the actions of the government and facilitating greater transparency and accountability. Essential to their proper functioning is the requirement that the media be unbiased in their reporting, covering all sides of an issue.

    This Morning Serious Debate in the mail.

    http://www.nzcpr.com/weekly271.htm

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  2. berend (1,695 comments) says:

    It’s a free country: everyone can start their own news agency. If there is indeed a gap, some journos from the NZPA can start their own news company. The cost of doing so is low. They have the contacts, and the credibility. To make it even more attractive, I’m willing to offer free hosting for a year at http://www.xplainhosting.com. Just contact me at berend@xplainhosting.com if you are from the NZPA. I’ll set up a free Drupal news distribution for them.

    So I would say they have no digital barriers for entry anymore.

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  3. Manolo (13,517 comments) says:

    NZPA disappearance is not a loss to journalism. Quite the contrary.

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  4. KiwiGreg (3,246 comments) says:

    It’s inevitable in this initernet age. Newspapers are fucked (newsprint production to decline 12% this year in the US for example).

    The idea that TVNZ reports news on itself should tell you all you need to know about the quality of their reporting.

    Seriously does ANYONE care when parliament sat or rose?

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  5. KiwiGreg (3,246 comments) says:

    ..but I do like your headline “Fairfax kills NZPA”. Nice and informative.

    Not as accurate as “Fairfax ends joint venture with APN, 40 lose jobs” perhaps but way catchier. Assuming NZPA did anytihng of value there will presumably be some uptake by the underlying media of journalists but I’m guessing it will actually just defer downsizing there instead.

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  6. wreck1080 (3,853 comments) says:

    News in NZ is abysmal.

    I blame the brain drain.

    All we have are donkeys so all we get is donkey poo on the news.

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  7. freedom101 (490 comments) says:

    What are you worried about? We have Campbell Live and Mark Sainsbury, and all the 20-something eye-candies on TV1 and TV3. Who could ask for more?

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  8. Viking2 (11,338 comments) says:

    Well we now have “True Blue” as well.

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  9. Viking2 (11,338 comments) says:

    Oh I forgot. We also have Parliament live as well if one is bored, as BB often is.

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  10. Pete George (23,420 comments) says:

    In the near future, Fairfax and APN won’t have the cost of NZPA anymore. I hope they see that as an opportunity to hire more journalists themselves to cover the gap NZPA will leave,

    Fairfax have said they will hire about 15 additional staff to cover for it.

    and enhance their ability to cover important stories

    It depends on where their priorities are. It could lead to beter coverage by both Fairfax and APN – more competition may help rather than shared NZPA coverage – but the quality of journalism is already a concern.

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  11. nasska (11,078 comments) says:

    Given the desire of any government to keep from the public eye all their sneaky legislation & dirty laundry the axing of the NZPA is a step backward. While the MSM have done everything in their power to make themselves politically irrelevant the dismantling of any news gathering agency is bad for a democracy already deficient in checks & balances.

    The internet will continue to plug the void left by the press…..at least until the government of the day decides that freedom of information is a luxury we can do without.

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  12. peterwn (3,235 comments) says:

    It seemed the rot set in when Sunday Herald ‘repeated’ stories that Sunday Star-Times was about to publish and was obliged to pass to NZPA under then rules. The latter started to hold back stories which they regarded as their legitimate ‘scoops’.

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  13. LiberalismIsASin (288 comments) says:

    Who cares. The media is a ship of fools at the best of times. The only news I care about is the good news.

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  14. Rick Rowling (825 comments) says:

    Oh crap. 40 more journalists whose job prospects are “communications manager” or “communications advisor”.

    At least we still have The Pigeon for independent news.

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  15. Rex Widerstrom (5,342 comments) says:

    NZPA was hobbled, as DPF points out, by Fairfax’s decision in 2006 not to share content. That was the raison d’ etre of the organisation and the benefit was that if, say, an APN regional newspaper in a North Island regional town contributed a story of broader interest, a Fairfax metro daily had access to it. Readers benefited.

    As soon as that was stopped by Fairfax ctting off its nose to spite its face, its purpose became less clear. Nonetheless it was one of the few sources of reportage where the journalists realised that their opinions were far less important than the facts, and that they were in fact journalists and not protocelebrities.

    Further, as freedom101 so aptly points out, there are virtually no alternatives, especially if one wants a “no frills” approach to reporting. And as DPF points out, the NZPA journos tend to be amongst the longest serving and thus able to bring some perspective and judgment to their reporting.

    We will definitely be less informed as a result ot this move, but I imagine some Fairfax executive will take home a bonus for his contribution to boosting the bottom line.

    @Berend: Excellent idea, and great community spirit. I hope they take you up on it.

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  16. Maggie (674 comments) says:

    Capitalism 101 – if it works, knock it on the head.

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  17. atlas (1 comment) says:

    Think berend idea of NZPA journos starting their own news company is a good one, we would be an eager customer to be supplied news for our website. End of last year we were having positive communication with NZPA to be supplied news, then were told we would have to wait six weeks for the final descision to be made when the board meet. Final reply from the NZPA representative was “I had a meeting this morning with the CEO and the indication we are getting from the board is that the supply of content to third parties is to cease in 2011″.
    At the time we felt like the last kid to be picked at PE given they were still carrying a full page blurb for the supply of digital content, thought at the time they had denied us cause we stated our site was going to have content on New Zealand and NZPA shareholders who own Stuff and NZ Herald etc feared competition, maybe the writing was on the wall at the end of last year for NZPA.

    Then we contacted Newstalk ZB who were a staggering four times the price of reuters for the supply of online news, reuters price was staggering enough. High time NZ had a true independant news agency, instead of having to apply to an agency who own competing websites. Pricing needs to be calculated on unique visitors or more Kartel’s will be seen.

    Are there any other options for the supply of New Zealand online news besides Newstalk ?

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