Traditional media keeps getting a pounding - and entering the fray at a sensitive time in New Zealand is the Flat Earth Society disguised as the country’s regulator, the Commerce Commission.
ComCom has rejected the proposed merger of Fairfax New Zealand and NZME, citing the likelihood of greatly reduced competition in the market. The argument: less outlets, less views, poorer society.
It beggars belief, of course.
Almost all new digital revenue goes to Facebook and Google - ComCom among the advertisers with the former.
Under a merger, the businesses would have been rationalised. Old jobs would have been axed but new jobs would have been created in what represented a chance for big but struggling media there to respawn.
With another round of editorial job losses imminent at Fairfax Media in Australia, the continuing contraction in the industry supports the argument that if you want to get your message out you might need to go DIY.
An increasing number of corporate and community organisations are setting up newsrooms to fill the void left by retreating traditional media - or to compete with what is left.
Fairfax has announced $30 million in cost cutting for FY18. Most of that is likely to come from axing staff in the newsrooms of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. This is my journo maths, but at the upper limit that represents about 200 staff, although expect it to be between 100 and 150 after some argy-bargy.
Some media competitors report this almost gleefully. However, staff across News Corporation in Australia can expect to see new rounds of redundancies too, according to my mail.
Meantime, given the fragmentation of the media and audiences, companies are investing large chunks of their marketing and communications budgets to better leverage digital and social media channels.
The declining fortunes of local media represents an unprecedented opportunity for local governments to step into the breach, set up a DIY Newsroom approach and go direct to residents with their message.
Today I learned of another “restructure” at one of Australia’s largest media chains, which is code for more staff redundancies and the lay-off of more journalists.
This spells another grim chapter for an already distressed traditional media.
In the regions, newspapers have greatly reduced the number of editorial staff, their circulation has plummeted and that has meant they have had to try to do more with less. The regional TV landscape is not pretty either.
When I was editor of a large regional daily newspaper several years ago, I had a staff of 80 full-time editorial employees. Today, there are less than 30 editorial staff.
Council insiders tell me that shrinking local media is making it harder for council messages to be heard.
Or, is it actually councils’ best-ever opportunity to engage with residents and ratepayers in new and profound ways by setting up a true DIY Newsroom?
That is right: if they were SMART, councils would see themselves as the primary destination and distributor of compelling, useful and relevant content for their local government constituents.
Flame Tree Media is more than an interested party in what goes down in the New Zealand media market. One of our key clients is Fairfax NZ and we have also consulted for independent publishers there.
We believe the proposed merger between Fairfax NZ and NZME would be a good thing for New Zealand, those businesses, journalism and, most importantly, for Kiwis.
We produced this submission for the NZ Commerce Commission, which is considering whether to clear the merger. It is expected to make its final decision by March 15, 2017. Coincidentally the Ides of March.
Communication units have learned a lot in recent years about leveraging social media, but if they really want to supercharge their messaging they should adopt the best behaviours of modern newsrooms.
Newsrooms have the attributes, processes and energy that power content for ultimate audience engagement.
Over 30 years, I’ve run or worked in dozens of newsrooms in Australia and New Zealand - the biggest and smallest. I’ve also seen how exceptional operations like The Sun and The Guardian in London, and the Chicago Tribune and Boston Globe have operated. Each of those newsrooms have a personality and idiosyncrasies that exude their target market.
Like any organisation, no one newsroom does everything superbly.
But here’s 10 traits of newsrooms, compiled from the best of the best, that comms teams could use as a checklist when considering how to better position themselves.
I’m still shaking my head.
Yes, that Donald Trump was elected President. But also at the staggering and anachronistic decision by New Zealand’s competition watchdog to reject the proposed NZME and Fairfax NZ merger.
In a 195-page draft determination, the Commerce Commission found the merger would substantially lessen competition in the market.
The commission stated NZ would only be behind China for concentration of newspaper ownership. A merged company would account for 90 per cent of daily newspaper sales in the country - a far more dominant position than Rupert Murdoch has across Australian media.
On every front, from a reduction in competition in discrete local markets through to the impact on ad buyers, the report paints a grim picture post-merger. It is particularly damning of how the merger would materially diminish the plurality of views across NZ.
Stuart Howie is a communications consultant and strategist. He runs Flame Tree Media, which specialises in setting up newsrooms for organisations wanting a better return on communications. Stuart has worked in media and publishing for more than 30 years as an editorial executive, editor, and journalist.