News, journalism and the digital abyss

November 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

The news industry is looking for a life jacket in a storm. No one yet has a complete answer to make journalism float in the digital wave that is wiping out the news media’s traditional business models.

One of the biggest fears for journalism is how to maintain the separation between an editorial process and the money making side of the business. As the old news media models begin to collapse in the digital era, the danger is that the news will become all about clicks on pages because that’s what is most attractive to the advertising side of the business.

If news is determined by what gets the most clicks, the many issues that are serious, complex and unsexy (think climate change, changes to the way schools are funded or new surveillance legislation) would not be able to compete with stories about international rugby players caught in a sleaze.

How then do we as a society mitigate against changing news priorities that are primarily driven by commercial imperatives, made even more acute by an increasing desperation in news media publishing? How can good journalism be profitable when classified advertising in newspapers is drying up and free to air television news faces falling audiences and increasing competition for advertising dollars due to online competition?

The fact is no one yet knows. As American internet commentator, Clay Shirky, puts it, we are in a period of creative destruction and it is still too early to predict the kind of emerging media architecture that we hope will spring Phoenix-like from the ashes of the old business models that have served journalism for so long.

Shirky’s referencing of creative destruction is actually the idea of an Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter who described it as an essential part of business cycles. As companies grow and become leaders, they eventually become overtaken by other companies which adapt to the changes in the business environment by being smarter and more innovative.

In the current media environment, the pervasive mood is fear. Many news organisations are more concerned with clinging to their declining audiences than building new ones. It’s a strategy borne out of pessimism. There is a lot of waiting to see what happens next.

That’s why the experiments implemented by Rupert Murdoch’s News International have attracted so much media attention and commentary. The pay wall that ring fences news content on The Times website and Murdoch’s digital subscription newspaper The Daily were designed to stem the free content digital tide but the prognosis is not a hopeful one.

On the other hand, the New York Times appears to be enjoying some success with its pay wall as it records a significant increase in subscribers.

Meanwhile, The Guardian is a newspaper with an entirely different strategy. Editor Alan Rusbridger told Al Jazeera that a decision had been made a few years ago to turn the Manchester newspaper into a digital first organization.

The Guardian is betting that it will become a commercially viable strategy even though the transition to digital is literally costing it millions. Last year, it lost over 40 million pounds and it is even reportedly weighing up opening a lifestyle shop in Covent Garden to create another revenue stream.

But in journalism terms, The Guardian has been buoyed by its part in breaking two remarkable news stories – the Wikileaks documents and the News of the World phone hacking scandal. Even so there must be misgivings among its shareholders over how long it can continue to run at a loss while hoping its bet on a digital future for news pays off.

Rusbridger told Al Jazeera that the media companies that will succeed will be open ones. “This is the biggest transformation in the last two to three hundred years and not many media organisations have twigged it yet.”

The key appears to be finding ways of doing things that the competition is not doing. While it may be an expensive strategy, The Guardian is trying to seize a first mover advantage. Recent innovations include opening up its news lists to readers to contribute story ideas and@GuardianTagBot, a “Twitter-based search assistant”. There’s also nOtice, an “open community news platform” which is heralded to be launched soon.

While these experiments may not yet add up to a clear picture of the future of news, they give us glimpses of new directions for journalism and offer further clues of how media organisations need to evolve to survive.

Some might say it is simply a matter of rearranging the deckchairs but The Guardian’s guiding vision is a courageous one. That’s because it is intrinsically optimistic about quality journalism and the internet, despite the prevailing fear and pessimism that now grips the news industry.

Curating the best and worst of the London riots

August 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

The UK riots have been such a dynamic and sprawling news event. There’s been a marvellous quantity and granularity to the reporting. It has also helped that such a wide ranging news story happened in one of the great media capitals of the world where domestic and international media organisations, by and large, have some of their best news reporting resources concentrated in one place.

Apart from the news reporting by professionals, there’s been an avalanche of citizen journalism – user generated content sourced from amateurs who have been recording what they see around them, in their workplaces and neighbourhoods, on their mobile phones and cameras.

Thanks to both the professionals and the amateurs, there’s been such a verisimilitude and rawness to the online coverage of the anarchy that has unfolded in dozens of locations in London and spread to cities beyond the capital.

The people who got in among the rioters to film and video the violence and looting were either very brave or foolhardy, or both. But the videos posted on YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo have an intimate and personal quality – as seen hereherehere and here – that makes them powerful viewing.

This woman has become a cult figure for the way she berate looters in the London borough of Hackney and you can see why.

Many people have been shocked by this video of rioters stealing from an injured Malaysian student. The Guardian was able to locate the victim afterwards and get his story.

These samples, particularly those of the woman with a conscience and the bashed student, have received thousands of views. They were posted online, shared on the social web and highlighted on mainstream news websites.

In Birmingham, a Sikh community television station, Sangat TV, distinguished itself with its street coverage, so much so that Sky News UK co-opted its footage into its own. Here’s what one blogger said: “Is anyone else watching Sangat TV on Sky 847? Their coverage in Birmingham has been absolutely excellent. They assisted the police, live on TV, in detaining four looters and they’re generally sending out a far better message than mainstream media.”

Whether professional journalists would involve themselves in detaining looters is another story about journalistic objectivity but you can view some of Sangat TV’s riot coverage here. It’s a remarkable story of what can be achieved by a four person news operation, as you can see by this article.

Meanwhile, a journalism student says he received over one million page views on his blog The West Londoner in one day at the height of the rioting. Gaz Corfield told Journalism.co.uk that traffic to his live blogging “went viral” through posts on Twitter and Facebook, and links left in comment threads on mainstream news websites. Here’s the story.

All of this highlights how amateurs are now working alongside the professionals and are often in places where the professionals can’t be. This is why media organisations increasingly need to keep a close eye on the social web to supplement and enhance their own reporting resources.

What this means is that journalists working in news rooms now have a new and evolving role. They need to be curators of the best content on the social web. The rise of news curation is one of the aspects of how the web is changing journalism, as explained in a recent book by Steven Rosenbaum called Curation Nation: How To Win In A World Where Consumers Are Creators.

Rosenbaum’s thesis is that, as online data grows exponentially in volume, a lot of it driven by the amateur web, there is an evolving category of people who are content curators, selecting and sharing relevant and interesting content with their online communities. He also explains that the boundaries between professionals and amateurs are becoming increasingly fluid because everybody has the tools to create and share content.

A corollary of this trend is that some news organisations are moving towards a ‘mixed economy’ or hybrid model that incorporates amateur content with their own professionally sourced content. A successful model that is often quoted is the Huffington Post. It publishes its own content, aggregates content from other news media and curates content from the social web.

News is also about providing context. The best news providers and content curators, whether they are amateur or professional, have an important responsibility to frame the content within the bigger picture so we understand the significance of what we are being shown. Without context, what we see on the web is often unverified, fragmentary and sometimes phoney. Content curators that earn our trust make us confident that what they are showing us is a true and accurate record of an event that happened.

The riots in Britain are just the latest example of how even news organisations are increasingly becoming joined at the hip with the social web and acting in a curatorial role to give us more nuanced, crowd sourced coverage but also by giving us the essential context we need to understand what we are seeing. Welcome to the Curation Nation.

The empire can’t strike back and Rupert Murdoch is not Luke’s father

July 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Journalists are never highly regarded at the best of times. They’re not in the same league as nurses, fire fighters and tree surgeons and sometimes not even held in the same esteem as lawyers, used car sales people and real estate agents, depending on which rankings you see.

The truth is the profession has good journalists and bad apples like any other and a decisive factor is ethics – an issue that appears never to have entered the minds of the News of the World editors who gave their journalists free rein to go on phone hacking missions.

This complete disregard for the law and people’s right privacy at the flagship Rupert Murdoch-controlled tabloid newspaper can only be described as an utter failure of journalistic ethics and a betrayal of the privilege of media freedom.

The seriousness and scale of what’s alleged means the abuses committed by NOTW journalists were systemic and must have been sanctioned by very senior news executives – one reason why the current fallout is having such deep and wide ranging repercussions.

What set in at the NOTW news room was a culture of law breaking – the hacking into the information of people’s private lives to uncover scandal.  For the past five years, allegations of phone hacking by the newspaper’s journalists have been simmering. There was a police investigation that led to two convictions and revelations that News International, NOTW’s parent company, paid two important phone hacking victims for their silence. But the nature of NOTW’s usual targets – celebrities, politicians and members of the Royal Family – had failed to elicit much sympathy from the public. This all changed this month.

The hunger for exclusive content haunts weekly tabloids like the News of the World to a greater extent than their daily counterparts like The Sun because they only get one shot a week to break a story and set the news agenda for all its competitors. Forget the website, the hard copy Sunday print version is what really matters.

In its reckless pursuit of exclusive stories, News International, by dint of being NOTW’s owners, is culpable and stands accused of breaking British law – to be precise, the interception of communications, contrary to Section1(1) Criminal Law Act 1977 and bribing police, contrary to Section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.

The game changer was a bolt from the blue. The Guardian revealed News of the World journalists had hacked the voice mail of 13-year-old Milly Dowler in 2002 while the search was on to find her. She was later found to have been murdered.  It was also revealed a NOTW journalist or journalists deleted voice messages to make room for new messages from the girl’s worried friends and family members.

The reaction to the story has been one of universal disgust. NOTW had sunk journalism to a new and ultra-despicable low and heads are now rolling at News International. What’s also been laid bare is the company’s carefully managed and strategic relationships with key British politicians and even senior members of the police which has helped to protect the company like Teflon protects a non stick pan.

The founder of the News Corp empire that owns News International, Rupert Murdoch, has now personally apologised to the Dowler family and to the British public. In other developments, the NOTW has been closed down, journalists and former news executives are being arrested, Britain’s top policeman has resigned, an eight billion euro deal to buy satellite network BSkyB has been abandoned and Murdoch and his son James have been summonsed to appear before a parliamentary select committee. Meanwhile the threat of more criminal charges hangs on both sides of the Atlantic.

There are now other troubling allegations – that NOTW journalists hacked the phone accounts of the victims of the 2005 London tube and bus bombings. The US government will be carrying out its own investigations, including a probe on whether victims of 9/11 were also targeted by Murdoch journalists.

The blowback goes all the way to New York-based mother ship, News Corp, and what started with NOTW has become a defining crisis in Rupert Murdoch’s 50-year career as arguably the single most powerful man in news who has ever lived.

How then did News International get it so wrong? Here are four decisive factors.

Firstly, it seems certain that fierce competition for sales and profits in what is ostensibly a sunset industry was a fatally corrosive factor. The drive to scoop the opposition is the lifeblood of journalism and especially so for a Sunday tabloid. Tabloid newspapers are not called scandal sheets for nothing.

Secondly, NOTW was used as a career stepping stone by two ambitious young editors. Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson cultivated a very aggressive, risk taking news room that regularly got the stories the competition wished it had. Both were later rewarded with spectacular career advancement but given what we know now, there can be no greater failure of leadership than what went on under their stewardship. Brooks has since resigned as chief executive of News International and both she and Coulson have been arrested.

Next, a strategy of short termism was everything. What happened at NOTW happened against a backdrop of gloom because newspapers are dying. The hugely profitable and intensely competitive world of Britain’s tabloid market is only sustainable for another decade or so. The digital time bomb is destroying the hard copy tabloid and desperation has infected the industry. It’s simply a matter of trying to buy as much time as possible in the hope that a digital way of profitably delivering mass media tabloid content is created and soon!

One last critical factor in the News International debacle is the impact on privacy that has been caused by the internet, mobile and surveillance technology, as well as social media.  New complex multi-dimensional issues have sprung up that are changing our concepts of privacy and the enforcement and passing of new privacy legislation has failed to keep pace. Definitions of privacy and what is an invasion or breach of privacy are challenged on a daily basis by the news media. Newspapers like NOTW have knowingly exploited the confusion to push at the boundaries of privacy and in this case to fatefully cross them.

There you have it. The declining years of newsprint, ruthless editors, a reckless and exploitative news room culture, confusion over privacy issues, the onslaught of the internet, new enabling technologies and a corporate culture of hubris and arrogance have conspired to create one of the biggest media stories ever.

Now there will be a reckoning. The news media in Britain faces the prospect of greater regulation and there will be a rebalancing of privacy and media freedom. Media freedom is vital to transparency and democracy and to show truth to the powerful. But that freedom takes a mortal blow when society’s self-appointed watchdogs indulge in behaviour as corrupt as some of those they watch.

Guardian calls in the crowd to uncover the next Sarah Palin scandal

June 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Guardian newspaper wants your help. It’s crowdsourcing contributions from the amateur web to help sort over 24,000 pages of emails sent and received by United States presidential hopeful Sarah Palin when she was governor of Alaska in 2007 and 2008.

In a daring move to enable the voluntary involvement of the social web, the Guardian has established an online process that enables each of us to contribute if we want to by helping sift through this massive collection of documents.

The emails, which may or may not prove a treasure trove of gripping insights and shocking revelations about the maverick American politician, were released as hard copy documents. That’s why dozens of journalists have been in the Alaskan capital Juneau to make digital copies for their respective news rooms to pore over.

The Guardian, a Manchester based media organisation, tells us that two of its US correspondents have been scanning the papers from their Alaskan hotel room but because of the huge number, the job is simply too big for the professionals. So it is co-opting its readership to help find the interesting stuff.

“We reckon the collective eyes of thousands of you will find the juicy bits more quickly, so we’ll be publishing the raw mails on our website as quickly as we can and asking you to tell us which ones are interesting and why,” The Guardian said on June 10, the day the emails were released.

“They’ll be pretty rough and ready – no headlines or details of what they’re about – but we hope you’ll help us by using our simple system to tag them according to what subjects they cover, and how interesting they are.”

Here’s how to take part. Click on the button that says ‘Show me an unseen email’ and you’re in the investigative journalism game. Who would have thought journalism could be this social and so much fun? The page also includes progress updates (when I checked while writing this post, nearly 11000 pages had been read and tagged) and you can also tweet @gdnpalin to let the Guardian team know that you have turned up a  journalistic gold nugget or not, as the case may be.

The Guardian was one of the news organisations canvassed by the American Society of Newspaper Editors for its recent 10 Best Practices for Social Media report. In the study, the UK newspaper listed eight best practice points for its journalists blogging or responding to comments on its website, including this gem: Encourage readers to contribute perspectives, additional knowledge and expertise. Acknowledge their additions.

It will be interesting to see if the Guardian’s collegial social media policy becomes increasingly practised by other media organisations. But let’s go back to the other story.

The Palin emails saga began three years ago when Sarah Palin shot to prominence as a possible running mate for Republican presidential candidate John McCain. At the time, a political journalist for Mother Jones magazine, David Corn (@DavidCornDC on Twitter), noticed the state of Alaska had an open records law that had been successfully used by a citizen activist.

Corn’s request for Palin’s emails under that law three years ago has now paid a big dividend. His story on how it all came about is a riveting read. It is also encouraging for all of us who have high expectations of freedom of information and transparency in government. It is also an inspiring example of granular and patient journalism carried out by a dogged and resourceful reporter.

But there are several caveats to the way the state governor’s office has acceded to the request for the emails – which was followed by other requests from a number of other media organisations as Palin’s political profile soared.

The first is that the process took three years because of what David Corn called evident foot dragging. The second is that over 2000 pages have been withheld and many of those released will contain redactions. Also, Corn says, the right to withhold a portion of the emails can be justified under “executive” or “deliberative process” privileges that protected correspondence between Palin and her aides about policy matters. The other issue is that Palin also used at least two personal email accounts to correspond with aides which the state governor’s office said was beyond its access to provide.

The released emails may well harbour a smoking gun to harm Palin’s probable run for the Republican candidacy in the 2012 presidential race. But given the documents withheld or redacted by the Alaskan government, the emails are unlikely to really hurt her chances and her supporters will continue to rally around her. As yet, nothing terribly damaging has been uncovered.

While Sarah Palin’s emails are Little League in comparison with something like the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon, there’s a lot to admire in a news story that was made possible by old school journalism with help from the social web.

Watching journalism’s social media divide

June 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Most media organisations have made the change to the digital world but there’s an evident tension about the social web that keeps many editors up at night.  This conflict at the heart of journalism in the digital era reveals itself in stories by journalists about journalists.

There’s constant debate within journalism about the future of journalism and that’s a healthy thing. One of the most fascinating discussions going is how should the news media adapt to constantly changing technology and popular social media platforms.

It’s too simplistic to call it an argument between the digital natives and the digital dinosaurs. Most journalists I know have embraced the internet although many traditionalists scoff at Wikipedia as a news resource and deride the amateur driven social web.

Take this recent story by New Zealand Herald media journalist John Drinnan which is instructive for revealing the kind of tension that exists in the news media around social media.

When TVNZ’s Saturday morning current affairs programme featured an interview with Phil Goff, political editor Guyon Espiner channelled chatter on Twitter in a searching interview of the Labour Party leader.

Espiner said: “Ok. I’m already getting feedback in my ear from the producer saying people are Twittering and emailing us at the moment saying, ‘Hey, we want to know what Labour’s going to do.’ Would you restore this programme? This is what our viewers are saying. Can you give them an answer, Mr Goff?”

Drinnan, who may well be a social media sceptic, made it clear from his story, which also sought the views of journalism and media studies lecturers Jim Tully and Donald Matheson, this was a risky practice. He wrote “a fascination with social media is creeping in to all media as growing legions of readers, listeners and viewers spend more time online”.

Both Tully and Matheson pointed out that journalists needed to be cautious in referencing comments made on social media because of the dangers of anonymous or unidentified sources. Matheson said journalists needed to be more literate about social media and warned against the impulse to use social media as barometers of public opinion.

All of this just highlights that natural scepticism and objectivity are disciplines that journalists should apply in how they go about prosecuting a story. To say journalists are at greater risk of coming unstuck by referring to comments on Twitter smacks of getting things back to front.

If journalists repeat what they see on Twitter and present it as a true and accurate reflection of an issue then there’s a problem with journalism, not with social media. It also overlooks the qualities that make Twitter, well, Twitter.

Twitter works for its users because it is instantaneous and spontaneous. It can also be flippant or serious minded, phony or factual. Despite what Drinnan says, this isn’t about how “twitterers” want a piece of the traditional media but how the traditional media needs it to meet increased audience expectations of being allowed to participate. Isn’t the ability to interact almost the whole point of the web?

What Guyon Espiner did in his interview with Phil Goff was hardly a hanging offence. He referred to Twitter and email feedback as a nod to the programme’s online audience and to give a live immediacy to the interview.

While it was a tentative attempt by Q&A to embrace a more participatory ethos, it is a sign that some journalists and news producers understand the big lesson the internet is teaching us. We the audience are just not as satisfied as we used to be with a medium that broadcasts at us. The media many of us are integrating into our daily lives is a more spontaneous organism that grows on participation and mass amateurism and the evidence can be found all over the web.

The Ten Commandments for journalists (or are they?)

May 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

For those of you who are interested in what’s happening at the intersection of social media and the news, there’s an interesting new guide for journalists from the American Society of News Editors that makes interesting reading.

ASNE has surveyed 18 news organisations and the result is a paper entitled 10 Best Practices for Social Media: Helpful guidelines for news organisations.  The study was commissioned by ASNE’s ethics and values committee and the author is James Hohmann, a decorated journalist from the American Politico website.

Given the input from media organisations such as Bloomberg, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and The Washington Post and others, we can assume that its recommendations will have credibility and heft within the industry.

In its executive summary, the report says social media platforms continue to emerge as essential news gathering tools.

“Putting in place overly draconian rules discourages creativity and innovation but allowing an uncontrolled free-for-all opens the floodgates to problems and leaves news organisations responsible for irresponsible employees.”

The one issue that has caused some reaction via Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab is whether news organisations should break news on their website first and not on social media platforms.

“In a news climate that values speed, there are great temptations and added incentives to break news on Twitter or Facebook instead of waiting for it to move through the editorial pipeline. This underscores one of the main values of social media for news organisations, which is to drive traffic and increase the reach of high-quality journalism”.

Cory Bergman on Lost Remote says while editors are important, reporters should be empowered to report in whatever way possible, should the need arise.

“I can see ASNE’s point, but the recommendation is more destructive than helpful for a couple reasons. First, as a news organization in a new distributed world, everything shouldn’t be about driving traffic to yourself — it should be about providing the best possible news service on any platform. And second, the idea that reporters must always work through their editors — even though social media allows reporters (and the public) to self-publish — is increasingly out-dated.”

Another US journalist Joy Mayer, a fellowship scholar at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, says if reporters had to wait until there were links, too many people would already know what the story was.

“I was horrified when I saw this line, but the post goes on to say that there are indeed times when getting news out there, is more valuable than waiting to have a link to share. In general, though, I think journalists, and this set of recommendations, undervalue being a relevant, quick part of on-going conversations.”

Joy Mayer’s advice is to go for it.

“My recommendation would be for reporters to quickly tip their newsrooms first and tweet second – without waiting for the story to appear on the site. First is first, regardless of where it’s posted. Then follow up with a tweet with a link when the story is posted.”

But overall, the reaction to the ASNE guidelines is that they are essentially an endorsement of the need to be professional and ethical, something every journalist should be conscious of in both their professional and personal use of social media.  The One Ring that rules them all is Number Two – “assume everything you write online will become public” (and this includes Facebook because privacy settings could be changed in future).

For what it is worth, here are the ten key ASNE points:

1. Traditional ethics rules still apply online.

2. Assume everything you write online will become public.

3. Use social media to engage with readers but professionally.

4. Break news on your website, not on Twitter.

5. Beware of perceptions.

6. Independently authenticate anything found on a social networking site.

7. Always identify yourself as a journalist.

8. Social networks are tools, not toys.

9. Be transparent and admit when you are wrong online.

10. Keep internal deliberations confidential.

If you have a view on any of these guidelines, make a comment below. There are many ways to skin a cat and to report a story. Do these guidelines cover them all and are they the definitive Ten Commandments of using social media for journalists? Let us know.

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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