The article from Frank Newman on the Whangarei Community paper requires comment as it is a true indictment on how some publications have become irrelevant to those communities they serve.
I am happy to give my background within the newspaper industry prior to making comments on his article:
Joined the Christchurch Star as an advertising cadet 1965, Dunedin Star 1967-1970, advertising and commercial sales.
1970 -1972 NZ Herald advertising section.
1972, Evening Star Dunedin, advertising Manager.
1972 - to current various roles Allied Press and major shareholder/director 1986 to present.
Newman’s comments are true for many community papers published under the Stuff brand and some other publishers.
Fifty years ago, 29 daily paper papers were making good profits, and most were owned locally. Also, there were three main companies viz, NZ Newspapers, Wilson and Horton, UPP they all owned multiple titles.
Soon after there were takeovers of some titles and INL was formed (Murdoch being a major shareholder).
UPP became part of Wilson and Horton and the takeover of basically generations of family ownership of regional daily papers galloped.
Connections to local communities reduced with management staff cuts, with these important roles replaced by unseen persons in distant head offices.
The landscape completely changed in the 1980's when Brierley purchased NZN, and raided W and H with Tony Orielly ending up with control of NZ's major paper and provincial titles.
INL under Mike Robson gobbled up a number of others and some of the leftovers from the NZN break up. Robson died unexpectedly in 2000 which was a major loss to the industry. He was a true believer in print with local involvement and sponsorships of many activities cultural and sporting via all their daily papers.
Unfortunately, soon after his untimely death the Murdoch organisation News Ltd sold Independent Newspapers Ltd to Fairfax Ltd the Australian failing organisation.
This sale started the downhill slide of the importance, duty, and role of the newspaper medium both daily, Sunday and community papers.
While all the boardroom machinations were taking place, independently owned community letterbox publications cropped up.
The big groups had large printing machines with little full colour capacity, so smaller printers acquired cheaper and more versatile full colour equipment.
They looked for other work and offered better prices for start-up publishers to print their products.
The large groups had become victims of their revenue successes of the pre 1987 days, had excessive management overheads and priced their advertising lifelines with arrogance to satisfy the share price.
An example, after Fairfax purchased INL, Professor Frank Hilmer the CEO called at our Dunedin building.
Fairfax had the Press and Timaru Herald in the north and the Southland Times south of us. They were attempting a pincer movement to make inroads into our traditional readership.
In those days Press circ was about 80000, ODT 45000, and the Southland Times 27500.
Press advertising rate was twice that of the ODT, and the Southland Times higher than ODT!!
I happened to have a brief conversation with Hilmer. He opened up by saying our advertising rates in the ODT were too low and should be increased 20%.
I disagreed as we offered fair value for advertisers and the company alike.
As times were very buoyant his quip was “you must make hay while the sun shines”.
My retort was “what happens when the shit hits the fan and your current overcharged major advertisers demand huge reductions?”
Soon after the 2008 GFC occurred, Fairfax received the demands.
Today our people can get calls, “why does a full page in the ODT cost more than the Press”!
Barry Coleman created Liberty Publishing in mid 1970s. He saw opportunities to attack the two main profit centres of the large metro papers, viz the Property and Motor categories by producing stand-alone products targeted to readers via letterbox. The revenue hit to many dailies was huge.
Some disgruntled staff of the major groups also saw opportunities and created local weekly papers that were delivered to the letter box and were filled with local and parish pump news.
Tight distribution that delivered almost 100% circulation around the communities of which an advertiser needed - no waste distribution.
The rate per thousand, per copy, per targeted reader was much lower and cost efficient.
The large groups then started or purchased communities to ring fence their daily paper profit centres.
One privately owned group bucked the trend, and the slide to mediocrity, outlined by Newman in Whangarei. It was Allied Press in Dunedin.
Allied Press owns NZ s oldest daily paper the Otago Daily Times (est 1861) and 13 community titles circulating in Southland, Otago, South Canterbury, Mid Canterbury, North Canterbury, The Christchurch Star (90,000 copies) and Bay Harbour News, Selwyn Times and four local suburban titles.
It is the majority owner of the Greymouth Evening Star, Hokitika Guardian (paid dailies) and the Messenger a West Coast circulating community paper.
Circulations range from 9000 to 90,000. a weekly print run of 510,000.
Other interests involve magazines (National and Local) TV and commercial printing.
The strength of all our publications is their involvement in the community and its interests.
In stark contrast to the description of Newman of the Stuff Whangarei paper, I would like to draw a comparison with our North Canterbury News. It has an average weekly paging of48. The number of weekly articles 45-50 of which zero come from outside the distribution area.
It is produced and laid out locally with 2.85 FTE in editorial, 3.6 FTE sales/admin, and one, 40hr staff member designing and producing the advertisements - ie 7.5 fulltime equivalents.
The paper is run locally without much interference from H O, so the staff have a feeling of ownership and the local community see it as `` their paper''. Advertisers see this and accordingly support it.
This basic format is across all our titles. There are a number of functions like finance / tech run from Head Office, but editorial, and salespersons are mainly local. Some sub and layout their own papers, others are done centrally.
Unfortunately, when the major groups daily papers were losing revenues, due to a number of reasons, cost cutting became prevalent and both the metro and provincial areas suffered.
Many community titles lost their local character and staff, editorial, production and often sales were taken into hubs and to call centres overseas for circulation and classified advertising placement (this may have been reversed).
Sub editing done remotely by a person maybe 500 km away with no knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of the area and lack of local reporting input meant there was a need to fill paper with content of little appeal to local readers.
Currently there are many very good community papers through NZ meeting the needs of their area. They are privately owned and operated at the local level.
Most have a good relationship with local government, sporting and other organisations and offer 100% local stories, this is the difference to the large organisations that have put digital publishing first and have centralised most functions.
Community and daily newspapers must cover local events and activities both positive and negative to win support of readers and advertisers alike.
Stuff two years ago decided to discontinue local sport in its dailies to the dismay of the various codes and readers. They now do a generic National/international round up and is published in each of their titles. Subscribers have reacted accordingly.
It is perilous to alienate paid readers.
The latest series on apologies to Maori for whatever reason, was published across all daily titles and flowed over into their communities with further loss of space and content for local readers ... once again, I suspect readers made decisions to the financial detriment of Stuff.
Publishers must realise they rely on readership and advertising. Treat these two groups with respect by giving them news and a platform for their views and they will succeed.
Treat them like the Whangarei example, and the opposite will occur rapidly.
Sometimes of course we slip up but that’s the nature of publishing.
N G S Smith