Friday, February 19, 2021

Nick Smith: Alienating Readers



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.

 My comments:

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
Allied Press


Phil said...

The author is a Director of the Allied Press. I have recently stopped buying the ODT because it leans in the same direction as Stuff. Not quite as bad but I doubt there have been many articles in the last 4 years critiquing any policies of the Labour Party. I would have liked to have seen at least a hard hitting editorial slamming Labour's electoral deceit over Maori wards on councils.

Anonymous said...

I also have unsubscribed to the ODT.
I sent a letter to the editor which was printed but the title "media reporting" was changed to "Tahr protest". My letter referred to there being no coverage in the ODT of a large locally organised peaceful protest involving 600 vehicles. The last paragraph of my letter referring to there numerous reports of riotous protests overseas as sensation grabbing, was not printed.
Editor replied he did not consider the tone of the letter changed. I can not believe interference isn't happening to all articles.

Unknown said...

I too do not subscribe to the ODT as it does not reflect a hard hitting view of what the government is doing wrong. If they took a stand against the constant carping of Maori to have everything when in effect they can enjoy as much as anyone else in the country without their animosity towards those without any Polynesian native heritage.
Until the ODT stands up and rallies against the TOW being a partnership and that Maori wards are not the democratic way to go, then they will become just another voice wandering in the wilderness of leftism.

Anonymous said...

The Whangarei Advocate and Leader have been reduced to total biased reporting on all things Maori. There is no balance to their stories. Every mention of a Maori person includes their Tribal affiliation. I don't mind this when it is relevant and the story is about a Maori organisation etc. But when a Maori scores a try or catches a fish - what has this to do with Tribal connection?? Interesting to note the Tribal affiliation is never mentions in crime stories.
I too, am proud of my Irish/English heritage but I don't add it to my name every time. Why can't we all just be New Zealanders. A "Team of 5 million" or "one people" as the Treaty states. Maori are not special.
We play a game here now. After doing the Crosswords and Sudoku I search through the Whangarei papers to see if I can find the phrases "Maori want" or "Iwi want". So far a 95% success rate.

Anonymous said...

The 'North Taranaki Midweek' ran the Stuff propaganda under the headings 'The truth about Aotearoa's past' and 'Challenging our country's history' even as it welcomed the draft History curriculum. As an ex-teacher of History and a curriculum author I asked the editor for equivalent space (1600 words) to debate the issues raised, and was told that “We can’t let just anybody write articles on the Opinion page.” Why not? Isn’t that what it’s for, as long as the opinion is not defamatory? So I wrote to Sinead Boucher - and was comprehensively ignored. Same old Fairfax/Stuff policy of suppressing debate and shaping, rather than reporting, public opinion. Just what Marxists love - having their minds made up for them because they don't use their minds anyway. The problem is, of course, that when people are denied the right to full and free debate in a public arena, they have recourse to extremism. As witness, how about the post-Civil War appearance of the KKK? Come to that, didn't the Bolsheviks ultimately thank the Cheka for putting fire in Bolshevik bellies? Plus ca change . . .

Anonymous said...

A better question to ask is "Who's been preparing the parrots?


Marxist Journalism Teachers

SAP. 17 Dr Martin Hirst -- by Trevor Loudon
My latest Socialist Academic Profile looks at Auckland University of Technology School of Communication Studies curriculum leader, Dr Martin Hirst.

According to the AUT website:

Dr Hirst joined the School of Communication Studies at AUT University in January 2007, after a 12 year teaching and research career in Australian journalism education. He has an extensive background in academic research in journalism and communication/media studies and is the co-author of three books: Look both ways: Fairfield, Cabramatta and the media (2001, with Antonio Castillo), Journalism Ethics: Arguments and Cases (2005, with Roger Patching) and Communications and New Media: Broadcast to narrowcast (2007, with John Harrison).

Sounds impressive. A very experienced man for a very influential position. Dr Hirst will be influencing the course content for hundreds of NZ’s student journalists. He will be in a position to influence the way they think and most importantly, how they write.

One experienced journalist, the Dominion Post’s Karl Du Fresne is not quite so impressed with the good doctor.

Writing in the Dominion Post du fresne discusses a recent journalism seminar he attended:

Cleverly titled Journalism Matters, the seminar in Parliament’s Grand Hall had the declared aim of promoting “quality journalism”. It mixed a recitation of age-old union gripes – such as claims of understaffing and low pay – with debate over broader philosophical questions about where journalism is heading.

While the roster of speakers reflected an unmistakably left-wing agenda, the seminar attracted a handful of executives from the two big newspaper groups, Fairfax Media and APN, and covered some issues that transcended industrial politics, such as the threat to traditional mainstream news media from competitive pressures unforeseen a few years ago…

The political theme continued throughout the seminar, perhaps reaching its low point when the curriculum leader in journalism at the Auckland University of Technology, self-proclaimed socialist Martin Hirst, declared that journalism was not about reporting the world, but about changing the world.

This highly politicised interpretation of journalism, which sees journalists not as reporters trying impartially to cover matters of public interest but as agents of political change, is now so entrenched in some journalism schools that it barely raised an eyebrow.

That criticism has led to a media spat between Du Fresne and Hirst and some rather incredible statements by the latter.

Anonymous said...


I quote from today’s Christchurch Press:

First Hirst praises leftist journalist John Pilger

John Pilger’s crusading work over many years is another example of what I describe as the journalism of engagement.

Then he attacks the virtue of journalistic objectivity;

Objectivity as a principle of journalism is no longer the holy grail. The fact that some journalism editors are prepared to say so and put such ideas in front of their students is just a recognition of this idea. In the respected Columbia Journalism Review, Brent Cunningham has written a thoughtful piece called “Rethinking Objectivity”. He makes the point that often it is an excuse for lazy journalism and that it forces reporters to rely on official sources. He also argues that it allows the news agenda to be captured by the “spin doctors”…

Then he discusses his socialist views;

My politics are in the tradition of international socialism…I don’t believe for a minute that the charade of democracy practised in the free market West is the be all and end all of human political development.

Well just how “socialist is Dr Hirst.

I can report that Dr Hirst joined a small Trotskyist sect while at university in Sydney in 1975.

I can also report that he remains a Trotskyist to this day.

Dr Hirst is listed as a contributor to the Australian Trotskyist website Marxist Interventions, where he is described thus:

Martin Hirst has been active in socialist politics since 1975 and claims to have been the only Trotskyist to ever work in the federal press gallery as a journalist

I quote from the comments section of Australian blog Intercontinental Cry:

just a quick line to let you know there was a very militant occupation of the Australian Consulate in Auckland this evening against the invasion of Aboriginal lands and in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters facing John Howard’s racist attacks…

Kia kaha
Joe Carolan
Socialist Worker, Aotearoa

very good speeches from all the groups in support-

Julia and Joe from Socialist Worker, Martin Hirst, Lecturer in Media studies at AUT, Jared from Workers Party, Jim Gladwin from Citizens against Privatisation, and statement read out from Kulin Nations and Aboriginal declaration of sovereignty’ by UNITY editor Daph Lawless in Consulate occupation that broke through police lines.

So there you have it.

Your taxes are paying a lifelong Trotskyist, who does not believe in objective journalism, to design curricula, to teach future Kiwi journalists how to work for “social change”.

Am I being fair to Dr Hirst here? Or am I being too “objective”?

You judge, dear reader. It’s your world this man wants to change.

Anonymous said...


S.A.P. 18 Dr Geraldene Peters -- by Trevor Loudon
Dr Martin Hirst is far from the only socialist working in the Auckland University of Technology’s School of Communication Studies.

Our aspiring journalists have the choice several radicals to teach them how to bend history in the correct direction.

My latest Socialist Academic Profile looks at AUT Media Studies lecturer, Geraldene Peters.

Ms Peters graduated with a PhD from the Department of Film, Television and Media Studies at the University of Auckland in 2006, having written a thesis about radical left documentary in New Zealand.
In the 1990 Peters did undergraduate film study under socialist film lecturer Dr Russell Campbell at Victoria University, Wellington.

In the 1998, Peters spent a year on the History of Consciousness graduate programme at the University of California, Santa Cruz. On the way back she stopped off in Cuba for a month.

In 2000 Peters was a founder of the NZ’s anarchist socialist internet media site, Indymedia.

That led in 2000 to organising, with the S11aotearoaNZ Collective, a series of Global Activism screenings at the UofA? – pretty successful by all accounts – we got numbers, and a range of people. “Showdown in Seattle” was of course the lynchpin screening. After helping organise, and videoing anti-WEF demos in Auckland one thing led to another with a group of us wanting to set up Aotearoa Indymedia. By early 2001 we hooked into a network of people from around the country wanting to do something similar, and the rest is …

In April 2002 Peters was involved in setting up the radical leftist Global Peace and Justice Auckland, with the likes of leftist priest Terry Dibble, lifelong socialist and activist Maire Leadbetter, former Trotskyist Mike Treen, Marxist John Minto, leftist legal academic Jane Kelsey, Socialist Worker member Dave Colyer, Green activist Lynne Serpe, former Trotskyist and Alliance Party co-leader Len Richards and leftist academic Love Chile.

GPJA spawned the leftist journal, Red & Green, to which Peters is an occasional contributor.

In recent years Dr Peters has been teaching and designing courses at universities in New Zealand and the US. She has also written study guides for the NCEA media studies curriculum and written material for university adult education.

Dr Peters’ research interests include:

Documentary theory, practice and aesthetics; film, television and media studies in Aotearoa/New Zealand; realism and visual culture; radical/alternative media practices; cultural studies in Britain and Aotearoa/New Zealand; articulations of social power; political economies of production.

In recent years Dr Peters, like her colleague Dr Martin Hirst, has been close to the Trotskyists of Socialist Worker. She is currently an Auckland City Council candidate (Western Bays Ward) for the Socialist Worker front electoral alliance-Residents Action Movement.

Anonymous said...


S.A.P. 19 Janet Bedggood -- by Trevor Loudon

Martin Hirst and Geraldene Peters are not the only socialists training our future journalists at the Auckland University of Technology.

My latest Socialist Academic profile looks at Senior Lecturer, School of Communication Studies AUT, Janet Bedggood.

Mrs Bedggood of course is the wife of Auckland University Sociology lecturer David Bedggood, the subject of an earlier Socialist Academic Profile.

Like her husband, Janet Bedggood has been a Trotskyist for decades.

In 1985 Janet Bedggood represented the Marxist-run “aid agency” CORSO on a three week tour of Nicaragua as guests of the Sandinista Trade Union Confederation.

Several members of the 11 person delegation were members of the Socialist Action League, or the Workers Communist League (including current Hamilton city councillor Dave Macpherson).

In April 1986 Bedggood was part of a delegation which lobbied Parliament in an attempt to get Labour government support for the Nicaragua Must Survive Campaign.

The Bedggoods were founders and leaders of Communist Left, the Auckland University based New Zealand section of an international grouping of Trotskyist sects, the League for the 5th International.
The international Trotskyist movement as embodied by the 5th Internationalists suffered a huge blow in the mid ’90s when the Bedggoods quit Communist Left to form a new sect-the Communist Workers Group.

The CWG is based at Auckland University and has managed to attract a handful of converts including Scott Hamilton of the blog Reading the Maps and Dave Brown (who may or may not be the Dave Brown who also lectures at AUT’s School of Communication Studies).

In recent years Bedggood has been active in the socialist dominated Association of Staff in Tertiary Education and has been the AUT branch secretary.

At a 1999 Sociology conference she gave a paper entitled “Rank and file teachers against their union bureaucrats: towards a proletarianisation of teachers.”

Bedggood was a confirmed member of the Communist Workers Group as late as March 2004 and is believed to still be a member.