Journalists mourn NZPA on Twitter and Facebook

April 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

The end of the New Zealand Press Association is a major tragedy for journalism in New Zealand. The news that the 132 year-old media institution will close later this year has been greeted with sadness and anger by many journalists and that’s been very much in evidence on Twitter and Facebook.

@LewStodart: Breaking news: NZPA to be replaced by Twitter as NZ’s major primary news source #headlineswewishweresatire

@felixmarwick: Commiserations to my friends at NZPA. A bloody awful decision.

@kimbakerwilson: Thinking of my @NZPAnews colleagues.

@mrsaubergine: Very sad abt @NZPANews. I worked there 11 years & will be v sad to see it close after 130 yrs. Nice to hear Kent on RNZ this morning, tho :)

@x_chemicalism_x: Haven’t read all the details but Tweeps are saying #NZPA is finished – confirm? I really hope it’s not!

@dpfdpf: Is very sad that NZPA is closing, both for those losing their jobs but also as it mean fewer quality factual stories

@peterdingham: Jim Tucker’s started a FB group: Save NZPA … http://on.fb.me/fhAVao

If you weren’t aware, NZPA is New Zealand’s domestic news agency. Australia has AAP, Germany has DPA, Indonesia has Antara, the United Kingdom has PA, Japan has Kyodo, China has Xinhua and Malaysia has Bernama.

NZPA is independent. It is owned by the New Zealand Newspaper Publishers Association and it provides generic news content for websites, newspapers, television and radio stations around the country.  Its journalists are very much the unsung heroes of the news because very few members of the public would be able to name an NZPA journalist or remember their by-line on a story.

NZPA copy is often taken and incorporated into the copy of other journalists at other media organisations. It is the sausage factory that journalists from other media organisations rely on to build a final news product.

It also reports on the unsexy stories at Parliament. While the parliamentary pack are chasing the key players in a sex or travel expenses scandal, NZPA also reports on the nuts and bolts of governance that goes on in select committees and the drafting and passage of legislation that won’t excite many editors and members of the public.

NZPA has also played an invaluable role as a training ground for young journalists. Dozens of young have passed through the NZPA news room in Wellington. I should know. I am one of them and it was the place where I first put into practice the fundamentals of journalism that I had learned at journalism school.

And now it is to close, putting 42 staff out of work. The tipping point is the decision by Fairfax to pull out of its purchase agreement with NZPA and by so doing destroy an organisation it is one of the main shareholders in. NZPA’s other major shareholder is APN. Both APN and Fairfax are Australian owned and are in direct competition with each other in many regions but most significantly, on the internet.

NZPA’s original model of cooperative copy sharing arrangement existed for years between newspapers and it worked when newspapers occupied particular regions around the country and didn’t compete directly with each other.  But the internet changed all that. Now Stuff and the New Zealand Herald Online compete directly online for readers and advertising and geography is not a factor.

It’s clearly a business decision by Fairfax. NZPA is commercially expedient. It provides news that helps Fairfax’s main competitor, APN, the publisher of the New Zealand Herald, maximise its journalism resources to provide nationwide news coverage.

Fairfax feels it has an advantage it can drive home because it owns newspapers the length and breadth of the country – The Press in Christchurch, The Dominion Post in Wellington, The Waikato Times in Hamilton, The Nelson Mail, The Southland Times and the Sunday Star Times and others.

Fairfax therefore intends to depend on its own news gathering resources and to knock out an institution that potentially gives more value to its main competitor.

The threat of closure has been hanging over NZPA for a number of years now. It has become a casualty of a rivalry between two Australian-owned media companies and New Zealand journalism and public are now worse off for it.

Blogger Danyl Mclaughlan who posts on Dimpost described it thus: “It seems to have been standard practise in news rooms for time immemorial, for journalists and news editors to take a PA story and stick their own by-line on it and publish it, so PAs footprint on the media landscape is even larger than it may have seemed; even the media executives who closed it down after 130 years probably don’t realise quite what they’ve destroyed.”

That’s the truth of it.

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