Let me talk you through the latest issue of the Whangarei Leader. It's Whangarei's only free community newspaper and part of the Stuff stable. It claims a readership of around 40,000.
This week there were 14 pages, plus a cover wrap - two pages advertising the Round the Bays fun run in Auckland.
Page 1. Article titled "The truth about Aotearoa's past".
Page 2. A generic money matters column appearing in all Stuff papers.
Page 3. Four articles, none local: "Challenging our country's history", "Segregation in the south", "Triple murders blamed on innocent Maori", and "Victoria Spa police raid: Law that destroys lives".
Page 4. Article titled "Grim welcome for island visitors", about a Maori urupa on Waiheke Island.
Page 5. Article titled "Anti-jewish hate speech that rocked Remuera".
Page 6. Article about a failed appeal against the Race Relations Act that took place in 1977.
Page 7. Half a page of "What's On" listings through to 29 April. Local news! Well, sort of.
Pages 8 and 9. Whangarei District Council paid advertorial. (The WDC is the Leaders largest advertiser. Hmmm, is that why the Whangarei Leader refused to print a paid advertisement containing the Maori ward petition organised by Democracy Northland?)
Page 10. Article, "Kiwi's knowledge of NZ history 'disappointing'", referring to research done by the Waitangi National Trust.
Page 11. Two local articles! One about a local GP going to work for the Navy, and the other about the new CEO of NorthTec listing her credentials as an experienced iwi and Maori development chief executive.
Page 12. A "nice neighbour" column. As it happens the nice neighbour is quite a distant neighbour as they live in Matamata. (Maybe there are no 'nice' neighbours in Whangarei!)
Page 13. Crossword and Suduko (which I am picking is the most popular page).
Page 14. Two more local stories! One encouraging people to buy tickets for the Whangarei matches of the Rugby World Cup tournament. The other one titled "Man fined for fishing offences", about a chap with a Maori sounding name appearing in the Whangarei District Court on two fisheries charges.
And that's the local news. Nothing about the largest paper petition ever presented to the three local councils signed by +14,000 locals demanding a referendum on Maori wards. I guess that's not big local news and does not fall within the meaning of what the Minister of Broadcasting, Kris Faafoi, referred to as "sustainable public interest journalism" this week when he announced a $55 million fund available to private sector media like Stuff, the owners of the Whangarei Leader.
This is what the Minister said in his press release:
"The Minister for Broadcasting and Media has launched a fund to support public interest journalism to ensure communities across the country are kept informed on issues that affect them and their communities.
“Grassroots public interest journalism, such as community reporting and investigative media enterprises, have been in decline or struggled for support in the past decade or more,” Kris Faafoi said.
“Given its importance, and the Government’s Manifesto commitment to support public interest journalism, we are investing $55 million over the next three years to provide on-going support for public interest journalism to be produced and shared through New Zealand media outlets,” Kris Faafoi, said.
“The fund will ensure this sort of journalism continues to play its vital role in sharing the stories that keep New Zealanders informed and engaged as well as supporting a healthy democracy by holding voices of influence to account.”
“COVID-19 and the lockdowns last year highlighted the important role our media plays in providing up-to-date, independent and trusted information to the public. We want to ensure that kind of coverage, is supported and developed across all community levels, where media operations have often cutback resources to reduce their costs,” Minister Faafoi said.
"It will be open to all media entities; from large media organisations through to small, local entities, Māori, Pacific and ethnic media."
$55 million of other people's money seems like a pretty cost-effective way to make sure community newspapers like the Whangarei Leader continue their very important role of keeping their local grassroots community informed and engaged on matters of concern to the local community.
But the one thing I do miss in the local papers nowadays is the book review. Perhaps I could provide one for George Orwell's book, 1984 but I suspect that, like the local Maori ward petition, may not reach the threshold of public interest set by Stuff or Minister Faafoi.
Newman, a writer and investment analyst, is a former local body councillor.
Frank Newman, a writer and investment analyst, is a former local body councillor.