Hold The Presses!

Hawke’s Bay Media: Must Try Harder! Part 3

Are my expectations too high, or is the quality of most Hawke’s Bay media just not up to the level our region deserves?

We have a big, vibrant, smart region. But if its media industry is anything to go by, you would be forgiven for not noticing it.


Earlier this year Hawke’s Bay Today took home a few gongs at the annual APN Regional Publishing awards.
Now, this is a commendable achievement, but I can’t help but feel they could still do better.

Our local paper and its pre-merger forebears, Napier’s Daily Telegraph and Hastings’ Herald Tribune used to have large subscription bases and would regularly win prestigious Qantas Media Awards for their reporting and photography. Recently it hasn’t been so fortunate.

A lot has changed in the newspaper industry over the last few years. Interactivity and instant news gratification is what readers now want. The internet and social media have taken large chunks out of the market of those who don’t diversify and as a result subscription numbers have fallen for many “analogue” publications.

Hawke’s Bay Today has been one of them. The paper won an award a couple years ago for best paper with a circulation under 30,000. That wouldn’t be such a bad award, or figure if Hawke’s Bay’s population wasn’t over 150,000. The paper itself got thinner and thinner. From the standard two section broadsheet to often only one very skinny section. Hawke’s Bay Today and APN’s solution? Halve the size of the paper from broadsheet to tabloid!

At the time I was a bit sceptical – the proof of a paper will always be in the reading, not the packaging. For a short time the content seemed to get better – printing tweets and comments submitted online was a nice bit of interactivity, but overall the contents still disappointed me. There still seems to be a consistent lack of investigative journalism and too many re-written press releases. The Art Deco Bus debacle is a good example. Too often there appear to be lots of statements from local councils and officials, but few hard, probing or basic questions asked by the paper. What are they afraid of? These big organisations need the media just as much as the media needs them!

Hawke’s Bay Today, like most papers, has its own online edition, but it too seems to have been suffering. I commented on an article online a few weeks ago and took two days for the comment to be posted, long after the article had gone from the web pages “cover” and lost relevance. On other occasions, I have had a reply email that my comment has (finally) been posted from one of APN’s other satellite publications. Where’s the local online love (and no, not that way)?
The site is also slow in breaking and updating news, when compared to bigger papers, so it’s no surprise they are often getting scooped by Stuff and The Dominion Post. No matter the size of the operation, I would think with the nature of modern-day media that every paper would have a dedicated, full time online team. Hawke’s Bay Today’s page doesn’t seem to have that facility.

I mentioned to HBT editor Andrew Austin when I last saw him that I felt there was something missing from the paper’s website. He said they preferred to look after the paper itself, rather than ‘giving away’ news online. This concept has its merits, but I also feel it’s majorly flawed. Reading the huge amount of news, opinion, blogs and information that Fairfax ‘give away’ every day on Stuff actually makes me want to buy The Dominion Post! Just as APN’s mother-ship site makes the NZ Herald even more appealing.

However, I do find APN’s regional publications come off worse for wear in terms of design and interactivity when compared to Fairfax’s – the Hawke’s Bay Sun looks and feels like a mini Stuff, while Hawke’s Bay Today and its fellow regional publications almost feel like the Herald’s web designers were scared that they might usurp their own website, so have nobbled them a bit.

Grade: C
When compared to Hawke’s Bay’s other media formats of radio and television, our newspaper is by far the leader in communicating with and interacting the Hawke’s Bay community, but I have high expectations, and still feel there is massive room for improvement and that all Hawke’s Bay media must try harder!

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