New Zealand Regional Journalists Deserve Support. NZME Does Not.

“Regional journalists employed by New Zealand Media and Entertainment (NZME), owner of the NZ Herald, Newstalk ZB, as well as a raft of regional and community mastheads, have released a statement seeking support from their local communities as they face potential job losses.”

I think (I HOPE!) regional New Zealanders will gladly support regional journalists.

But regional NZ cannot support New Zealand Media Entertainment’s (NZME’s) profit-hungry, regionally-irrelevant Auckland HQ idiocy any longer.

It has been confirmed this week that the cuts to regional journalism at NZME reported on a few weeks ago will go ahead unaltered.

Only weeks after NZME’s Hawke’s Bay masthead Hawke’s Bay Today not only won Newspaper of the Year at the Voyager New Zealand Media Awards, but the paper’s special “Cyclone Gabrielle: Special Free Edition”, released in the midst of the devastation, power cuts and logistical disruptions of the 2023 natural disaster also won “Best Use of Print” at the 2024 International News Media Association global awards in London, both of which its owners NZME loudly and proudly lauded, it was announced that HB Today’s newsroom was likely to be HALVED to divert funds to NZME’s failing online presence in Wellington and Christchurch, where their rival media network, Stuff, have held precedence since forever.

As part of these cuts ALL HB Today’s Visual Journalist (“photographer” to us old-schoolers) positions are to be axed.

While many in media say that a journalist with a smartphone can’t compete with the quality of industry-grade digital picture and video cameras, that’s looks EXACTLY like what NZME expect their Hawke’s Bay Today journalists to do from now on.

Oh, and cover a region that ranges from Dannevirke in the south, to Mahia in the north, and has a population of around 180,000.

Six full time-equivalent journalists are enough to cover that entire region.

RIGHT?!

“The changes will ensure those newsrooms have the appropriate resourcing to produce the right mix of high-quality content that better connects with our print subscribers and local communities, while continuing to serve our digital audiences,” NZME editor in chief Murray Kirkness.

Cutting an award-winning newsroom’s staff BY HALFwill ensure those newsrooms have the appropriate resourcing“?

What utter bullshit.

New Shub

Failing to Read the (News)Room

“A key feature of (NZME’s) restructure is the creation of a “hub”, from which news directors and editors will oversee multiple regions at once” Stuff reports.

A regional “hub” for news?

Like a “NewsHub“?

Has NZME not being paying attention to their own industry and the NEWS about it in recent months?

Oh, the HAVE??!!

Words fail me almost as much as logic evidently fails NZME management!

Cut, Cut, Cut, Centralize, Centralize, Centralize!

Sadly this is nothing new for New Zealand’s regional news outlets.

Hawke’s Bay Today itself was formed when Hawke’s Bay’s two newspapers (Napier’s “Daily Telegraph” and Hastings’ “Herald Tribune”) were merged into one in 1999 by NZME’s corporate predecessor APN. It added a section of Tararua District news when the Dannevirke News was also osmosed into the masthead in 2005.

For decades now New Zealand’s regional newsrooms have been the first port of call for repeated evisceration or closure when corporate media needed to save money or give their shareholders bigger returns.

Advertising income dropping? Cut newsrooms! Readership dropping? Cut newsrooms! Shareholders not making enough profits? Cut newsrooms! Online presence failing against entrenched main centre competition? Halve award-winning regional newsroom!

As regional newsrooms were cut to the bone the amount of news they could produce obviously dropped as a result.

As the amount of local news regional newsrooms produced dropped, less and less locals read and advertised in their once thriving, informative regional papers, as due to their corporate masters’ machinations and poor business decisions they lost relevance to the locals.

One of the most startling examples of this in Hawke’s Bay Today was a few years ago, under a previous editor, where there was almost as much in-house NZME advertising padding out space in the daily newspaper’s pages as there was local news content!

There were also “Editorials” and opinion columns galore from NZME’s regionally irrelevant Auckland radio talkback hosts taking up valuable column inches where local news, issues and opinions used to take forefront, too.

Despite claiming “Our commitment to all New Zealanders is that we will maintain the highest journalistic standards as we stay focused on giving Kiwis the news & information they need, when they need it.” A letter to NZ – Keeping Kiwis in the Know, NZME CEO Michael Boggs (speaking to Colin Peacock from RNZ’s Mediawatch HERE from 10:50) appears to prefer hailing the ratings Newstalk ZB receives for their repeatedly BSA-breaching announcers above truth and accuracy.

Play the Blame Game? Look in the Mirror!

It’s bad enough that NZME’s tiny stable of utterly average Auckland radio hosts get simulcast around the country, scaring listeners away to streaming platforms like Spotify.

But NZME HQ’s repeated gutting of regional newsrooms to feather the pockets of its media executives and shareholders has driven loyal local readers and advertisers away to other news outlets, or even to create their own local news groups on social media.

NZME then wails that “Facebook has taken our audience (read “profits”) away!”, and cuts regional newsroom staff numbers EVEN FURTHER to try and make up for money lost because of their own big city executive idiocy!

Other Media to the Rescue?

Around the time NZME announced its regional restructure TV3’s NewsHub news division was in its death throes, having been canceled, not by any “woke mob” or government legislation, but by yet more corporate avarice from its owners – American media giant Warner Brothers Discovery.

At the same time Newshub had devastated the employment opportunities of New Zealand journalists, competitor and media mainstay for generations, Television New Zealand (TVNZ) did what you would expect absolutely no logical competitor to do and ALSO cut staff numbers as well as long-running, popular AND PROFITABLE shows Fair Go and Sunday.

With all this devastation across the media landscape it might have made it a bit hard to hear the additional regional media losses NZME proposed because, as we’re aware, “regional New Zealand doesn’t matter”, apparently..

With all the chaos going on in his profession HB Today Deputy Editor Mark Story doubtlessly went in search of a coffee and scone to calm his nerves, but ended up making headlines in the days after NZME announced its cuts by being banned from a Napier café for “staying too long”.

The café banishment story was widely reported across multiple formats and outlets including hot takes in NZME’s NZ Herald. It even went international.

Spread as an odd, twee, “aren’t people in the regions a peculiar bunch?” sort of story that sparked several copy-cat “How long is too long to stay in a café?” polls, opinion pieces and vox-pops.

Even RNZ’s Checkpoint, once one of Radio NZ’s most studious and sternly investigative shows chose to descend into the bubble-gum depths of filling its airtime debating café table occupation etiquette – far more akin to Seven Sharp-esque candy floss than a spotlit Kim Hill interrogation.

And that’s what was needed – a few more questions. A bigger picture.

Because, as Deputy Editor of Newspaper of the Year 2024, Hawke’s Bay Today, Mark Story is almost certainly one of “three news directors” who make up half the job losses at the regional paper, along with all its dedicated photographers.

And that’s something that none of the coverage of the “twee little café incident” mentioned: An international award-winning paper, that overcame a major natural disaster to get the news out to the people who needed it was having their newsroom staff numbers cut in half.

This isn’t a failure of regional journalism.

It’s the failure of NZME.

This was never an issue of “no one reads newspapers / watches the 6pm news anymore”.

The news in newspapers, websites, apps, radio, and television ALL comes from newsrooms like Hawke’s Bay Today’s.

Cutting the numbers of newsroom staff cuts how much factual news can be covered around the country, and we are in an age where the need for quality, accurate and truthful investigative journalism is higher than ever.

We can’t afford for the light of regional journalism to go out, because “Democracy Dies in Darkness“.

Tautoko my regional journalist friends.

I am SO sorry you have been treated this appallingly by greedy idiots.

I cannot be the only one who thinks this.

But it feels like I have been screaming it into the void for decades while regional news has been slowly, INTENTIONALLY whittled away.

It needs to stop.

For the good of news.

For the good of society.

For truth.

And hope.

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