Friday, April 12, 2024

Peter Williams: How can media survive?

In an industry never afraid to report on itself it’s no surprise that this Sunday’s (taxpayer funded) Q and A on TV1 is addressing the matter of how media can survive in 2024 and beyond, and probably what a future media landscape in New Zealand will look like.

I know this because I was one of the people interviewed for the story, along with founder of The Platform and my old Magic Talk colleague, Sean Plunket. No doubt others with some relevant experience will feature too.

If the tenor of questions I received from experienced reporter Whena Owen is anything to go by, this may be a balanced story, one where “both sides of the story” are told.

She asked about why listeners would want to log in to Reality Check Radio (RCR), an online broadcaster with which I have had some association.

I told her that the recent survey on media trust, which showed only a third of the country’s population believed our media had credibility, suggested there is a perception that views contrary to an accepted narrative on some contentious issues are not aired or published on most media outlets.

Therefore when it comes to matters regarding climate change, the Treaty of Waitangi principles and race relations, the Covid response and the transgender debate there is no opportunity for those with non-conforming views to have their say.

Hence the rise of RCR where such views can be espoused, even if they’re often arrogantly dismissed as “conspiracy theories” or Plunket’s dismissive “rabbit-hole radio.”

(To their credit, both RNZ and Newstalk ZB have today, April 11, both reported in a balanced way on the Cass report in the UK which demolished the entire basis for the model of treating gender-distressed children and led to the banning of puberty blockers there.)

I reminded Ms Owen of my early days in television in the late 1970s when our biggest ongoing news story was sporting contact with apartheid South Africa, especially through rugby,

It was an issue which literally divided the population and culminated in the tumultuous 1981 Springbok tour here.

But the key point about the reporting of the issue during that period was while strident anti-tour protesters like John Minto and Trevor Richards were prominent faces in news bulletins during those years, so were PRO-tour supporters like rugby administrator Ron Don and the former All Black who was Police Minister at the time, Ben Couch.

I’m almost certain the likes of Don and Richards faced off in a live TV debate on the issue at least once.

So the broadcast news media of the time – dominated by state owned television and radio - as well as the influential newspapers like the New Zealand Herald, the Auckland Star, The Dominion, the Evening Post, The Press and the ODT covered the issue in depth and were never afraid to report the views from both sides of the debate.

Whena Owen seemed genuinely surprised that differing opinions on such a difficult issue were so often in the media of 45 years ago.

Contrast that to today.

In 2019 Stuff took the unilateral decision to no longer report views questioning the basic thesis that increased levels of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere cause significant changes in the world’s climate.

Virtually all other media have subsequently taken the same path.

Yet a new production Climate The Movie:The Cold Truth suggests there is still plenty of credible science around to suggest we are not in any sort climate emergency and that we have little to fear from more extreme weather events.

Because of modern technology Climate The Movie will be readily available to anybody with an internet connection. But will mainstream media bother with challenging or debating, or even airing, some of the issues raised in the 80 minute film?

Almost certainly, no.

And those in the media industry wonder why they have lost the trust and interest of the vast majority of their potential audience?

Climate change is just one topic where coverage of the issue lacks real balance.

Rational discussion about principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and the anger felt by thousands about Covid mandates are two more. Both matters have had their time in the sun on the new online broadcast outlets.

But RCR and The Platform are both seat-of-the-pants, smell-of-an-oily-rag type of operations.

I don’t know how much Plunket can pay his people but I imagine it will be much less than what they earned in previous media appointments.

Not that it mattered, but my RCR fees equated to about five percent of what I had been earning at Magic Talk, but I was prepared to help out during their early days in the hope they could gather some traction. I no longer have any regular commitments there.

That 350,000 unique users logged in at one time or another in the last year suggests some inroads were made by RCR, but cash flow always remained a problem. Hence the current pause in operations and the marketing video doing the rounds trying to establish an ongoing and sustainable model.

Among all the self-examination that has occurred in recent times since the Newshub and TVNZ announcements, there’s been little discussion about how non-government owned media companies can remain successful in the new digital world.

The realities have to be based on a subscription model.

It’s actually nothing new. We’ve been paying for newspapers for over a hundred years. Sky has been our most profitable TV company for most of the last twenty years.

Maybe the most extraordinary success has been the Christian radio company Rhema.

It started broadcasting in 1978, now operates three nationwide networks – Rhema, Life and Star – and reputedly has 17,000 subscribers paying a dollar a day. That’s about six million in annual revenue.

Whether small outfits like RCR and The Platform can continue to exist depends on how they can best tap into their niche audiences in the way Rhema has.

But with today’s technology making it very easy to produce and distribute high quality audio and video content through the internet, competition is fierce for the subscriber dollar.

Factor in organizations like Family First, the Taxpayers Union and the Free Speech Union all chasing donations, and producing podcasts as well, and the market becomes crowded. That’s just on the conservative spectrum. One imagines the same exists across the political divide.

As it should be in a fair market, only the quality product will survive.

Legacy or mainstream media have had their glory days. Whether they can reinvent themselves as more nimble models in the digital future is a question only they can answer.

But unless they can regain audience trust the current struggles seem destined to continue. Some reflection on their story telling techniques is well overdue.

I wonder if Whena Owen will reach the same conclusion on Q and A this weekend?

I’ll watch with interest.

Peter Williams was a writer and broadcaster for half a century. Now watching from the sidelines. Peter blogs regularly on Peter’s Substack - where this article was sourced.


Anonymous said...

Well I have a message for Newshub and TVNZ....welcome to the real world guys!!!....where people get cancelled for having the "wrong" views. You have all been doing it to us, now its our turn because you didnt listen when we told you we wanted facts and non-biased news so that we in turn could make our own minds up. You are not the only adults in the room and though I realize this may come as a shock...we dont need you to tell us how to think, act, and feel. Did you care when hundreds, maybe thousands lost their jobs for refusing to take a vaccine that does not stop spread? Nope you just sat there in your cushy job frowning down upon us for failing to obey your wisdom, and then you vilified us. Did you respect us when we chose a new government? Nope. You continued on telling us why we were all wrong in our choice.
So just to enlighten you a little...we are not right wing activists. We are not misogynists. We are not anti vaxers. We are not transphobic. AND!!!!....we are not racist simply because we disagree with you and would like a grown up conversation about these things that are bringing us all down. Also, weird but true, many many many of us are fully capable of researching and finding out for ourselves if something is mis or dis information. By now we all have trusted news sources from within NZ and all around the world and evidently you are all not a part of that. In fact, we dont get much at all from you about what is actually happening in the world.
Thank you Peter for consistently maintaining your common sense and respect for the people of NZ.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

The MSM have a narrowing window where they could potentially regain our trust, before they transform to other platforms. But I suspect too many CEO's, senior execs and broadcasters revel in their own spin and opinion on the world, that they will go kicking and screaming into their own inconsequential oblivion.

Doug Longmire said...

I think the answer is that:-
"No - the so called mainstream media (legacy media) will not survive, for the very reasons you have described above."

Anonymous said...

Good article, makes me wonder how the bods in the Govt of the day will get their messaging or propaganda across to the public.
Anything the govt sponsor will be a flop because it will be biased, no doubt about that. Therefore they have to try and use social media, which is so fickle one swipe and the message is lost.
Governments control the population through the media. Without the media the control is gone.
It’s why unbiased journalism is so important.

Rob said...

There's a difference between journalistic suicide and losing audience share due to technology. I am in my 50s. I was a life-long viewer of TV1 news and I would have continued to watch the news indefinitely despite the new forms of news media. It was part of my daily routine and a hard habit to break. All I wanted was balance, including the fair reporting of dissenting views. But it seems that was too hard. So I'm out, I'm happier and I'm not going back.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or do others out theire notice that when the ex newshub reporters are being interviewed, they look so much like cult members?

Anonymous said...

As the first anon said, the answer is they won’t because they’re being cancelled…by us. It was naive of them to think they could defame, silence & vilify anyone who disagreed with the Covid restrictions, vaccine mandates, Maorification & the absurd idea sex is nonbinary. New Zealanders might be easy going & even a bit gullible, but we’re not stupid. We know when we’ve been had. What’s happening with Newshub will happen to the others - it’s called having the chickens come home to roost. And it’s long overdue.

ihcpcoro said...

Since the election, most of the MSM have just carried on blithely, acting like a snake that is devouring itself from the tail upward. It is a very deep rooted problem that has been exacerbated under the Ardern mob rule, largely compliant academia driven at source. Erica Stanford has a huge task ahead of her to try and turn this ship around. NZ was fast becoming a corrupt little s**thole under the last administration. Demolition, not development of our once great country was their modus operandi, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 11.56 mentions gaining trust back. I have read several articles in recent days where the media acknowledge that they need to regain trust but fail to take any responsibility for the loss of trust. At a bare minimum I would like to see a truthful discussion on why they were so closely aligned to Jacinda Ardern. Was it the money or merely ideological alignment? We know stories were suppressed because we read the international media.

Anonymous said...

I hope that NZ "journalists" are following the inquiry into the UK Post Office Horizon scandal.
Clearly in the UK many people should have been objecting to the work they were asked to perform against innocent PO workers, and blown the whistle.
I expect / hope that many journalists are feeling that in a similar vein, they are also culpable for the racist shambles in NZ over the last few years .
Just "following orders " is not a reasonable or plausible excuse for all the non ethical deliberate destruction of democracy in NZ.

Sleeping well at night, or do you not have a conscience ?

Anonymous said...

The msm inability to understand what they have caused and the damage they have done to THEIR VERY OWN INDUSTRY, and the simple fact that the vast majority of kiwis no longer trust them is fascinating.

I have no sympathy for any of them and the ones at the top who have no insight to what has and is occurring under their noses is damning.

Are the left good at anything except for the destruction caused with anything they have control of?

angharad allmark said...

You are a pleasure to listen to and a pleasure to read. Your straightforward approach to the ensuing madness is comforting relief that others share similar views. I found most of the shows on RCR to be great, however there are murky details and under currants and feel glad for you that commitments have ceased. You are a bit of an icon for kiwi media. Be proud of yourself for being so true. Thank you.