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Fairfax milks the cash cow

Written By: - Date published: 11:56 am, July 1st, 2008 - 26 comments
Categories: Media - Tags: , ,

It was bound to happen. The Herald did it about a year ago and now Fairfax is following suit. Getting rid of subeditors who actually live in the same town as the paper for which they write. In their place Fairfax is offering New Zealander newspaper readers Centres of Editorial Expertise.

The trouble is that we lose valuable local knowledge in the exchange. Subeditors tend to be people who’ve been round a while. They are repositories of invaluable local lore and history. They know how people’s names are spelt, they know the geography of the place, they know who’s feuding who, who used to own that business and how so and so made his money. Often times, they hold a whole town’s institutional knowledge.

So I wearily predict that, despite the Excellently Named Centres of Editorial Expertise we will see a lowering of standards and accuracy in our daily papers. And all the while journalists do more and more with less and less. That’s why press releases are sometimes printed verbatim. Journos simply don’t have the resources to do the who, what, where, when, why and how digging that used to come with the beat.

And unsurprisingly, there was a ‘commercial imperative’ to the creation of these Centres of Expertise. About 40 well paid, highly skilled jobs will go. For good. So it wasn’t all for our betterment, education and enlightenment after all.

But we still love our newspapers. New Zealanders are better read than almost everybody. We buy more newspapers per capita than Australians and that’s why Fairfax loves us – we’re the perfect cash cow equation: costs down = profits up.

The newspapers involved are: The Dominion Post, The Press, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Southland Times and the evening Waikato Times, Manawatu Standard, Nelson Mail and Marlborough Express.

26 comments on “Fairfax milks the cash cow”

  1. really good post, eddie. and then i go and spoil it all by doing something stupid like posting on top of you.

    I can’t believe they’re firing journalists when everyone agrees the problem with the media is not enough journalists.

    But for David Kirk et al, it’s all about profits.

  2. Vanilla Eis 2

    Having grown up in the Waikato I can say that the Waikato Times was hardly a bastion of journalistic excellence, even without staff cuts. I shudder to think of what it might look like in a few years time.

    Seeing as that list covers all of the major Fairfax owned newspapers, I’m forced to ask: what positions are they retaining, if any?

  3. randal 3

    apparently the subs they have now aren’t skilled enough. what a load of claptrap.

  4. Lew 4

    VE: They’re retaining some staff for subediting of local content in each office (I’d guess that’s a couple of FTEs each, at most), and concentrating the remainder of the sub jobs in Wellington and Christchurch, in `sub hubs’, prompting Denis Welch to call them `hubeditors’ this morning.

    I’m not sure how the maths works out on this. Subediting is a hard job (one of the jobs which made me decide journo skool wasn’t for me) and subs have a harder, not easier job now than it was, since journalists are under greater pressure to produce content, which means the content they produce is generally of a lower standard. I believe the total number of subs was about 190, so a 20% drop sounds like it might just mean a 20% increase in work for those who remain. They will have economies of scale, but Thompson explicitly said they were not moving to a common content model, and that’s where the primary gains will be made, to my mind.

    L

  5. Nedyah Hsan 5

    Fairfax are milking the cash cow even more with NZ’ers reticence over not looking further than TradeMe.
    $5 to find a flatmate, $50 to advertise a rental – those are some pretty steep price rises, but still the hoi polloi flock to it.
    Why? Lack of education? Lack of searching for free/cheaper sites?
    Zillion, Sella, all far cheaper than fairfaxes grossly exaggerated $700mil dead weight.

  6. r0b 6

    Is the Otago Daily Times the last remaining major daily in independent hands?

    If so, is it likely to remain so? (Anyone from Sunny Dunedin know?)

    How can the continued consolidation of the print media in NZ be anything but a slowly unfolding disaster? How long before it’s all Faux news all the time?

  7. Tane 7

    Yeah, Allied Press own the ODT and the Greymouth Star. The rest of the dailies, and practically all the local weeklies, are owned by Fairfax or APN.

  8. r0b 8

    And the Greymouth Star. Well that’s all right then. Panic over.

    Sorry – don’t mean to be rude to Greymouth, had brilliant fish & chips there a couple of times. Also had to dig my van out of the sand after camping on the beach. Happy days.

  9. insider 9

    One of the most important things good subs do that you haven’t necessarily highlighted is teach – they teach new reporters how to refine their writing, they teach about angles, they teach about the importance of facts.

    My worry is that not only will the local knowledge be lost but also the hands on education young reporters can get having a discussion about what is news and how you present it with a sub who has sent back their copy with a ‘please rewrite’ note on it.

    But you get what you pay for, and people are less and less willing to pay for newspapers.

    Maybe we need ‘Kiwipaper’. Where’s Jim bolger when we want him?

  10. Eddie 10

    Nearly 100% of NZ media is owned by foreigners who don’t live here. I’ve got a hunch this ain’t no good thing for democracy, especially when more and more of the media are sounding like political players rather than commentators.

  11. Lew 11

    insider: “Maybe we need ‘Kiwipaper’.”

    I wondered aloud about just such a thing on this blog a month or so ago, but I’m not convinced it’d fly.

    The rest of your points (about the sub role) are good too, by the way.

    L

  12. insider 12

    Lew

    thanks but it was a joke…

    Eddie

    APN and FFx are both listed companies. There is nothign stopping NZers buying the majority of shares if they thought it was important. Nor is there anything stopping the entry of new media.

  13. Lew 13

    Insider: I know 🙂

    But I was serious about the rest of your comment.

    L

  14. Felix 14

    There is nothign stopping NZers buying the majority of shares if they thought it was important.

    Another joke?

  15. insider 15

    Felix, I don;t think we want to have another thread about the need for tax cuts, but thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  16. Tane 16

    Bill Rosenberg has done a very comprehensive study on media ownership here (pdf) if anyone’s particularly interested.

  17. Anybody still think we have independent media that has our (the people) interest at heart and wants to do its job of keeping us informed about what really matters to us? You know like what are our local politicians up to or our national ones. LOL. Or what about some independent international news, like Bush edging to begin a nuclear war with Iran perhaps.

  18. randal 18

    look the press in New Zealand is busy fulltime infantilising the population with blandishments for useless items and articles..and the funny thing is it works.

  19. Draco TB 19

    Nor is there anything stopping the entry of new media

    Yes there is. The cost to set it up, get it printed, distributed etc. How much of a loss is it going to take before (if) it starts paying for itself?

    I actually do think that we need ‘Kiwinews’ simply because, as the media giants keep cutting costs, the journalists become less informed resulting in a less informed populace. As the populace becomes less informed our democracy crumbles. We need good journalism and we’re not getting it from the private sector.

  20. Lew 20

    Felix, DTB: I considered a reply along the same lines as yours, but Draco, all the factors you list are simply the nature of the media ecology. Indeed, nothing does prevent a new media outlet from entering the ecology; all these factors would only prevent it from succeeding commercially, unless it was very, very good indeed.

    L

  21. insider 21

    Draco

    Set up costs are faced by any new entrant in any business. It is hardly unusual.

  22. ghostwhowalks 22

    Insider , setup costs are faced by any new entrant !!

    Thats why the aussies started their titles from scratch, hired 100 journos and sub editors, plonked down 120 million for a printing plant, set up a distribution system, and sales staff and waited for the avalanche of readers.

    The 1920s were probably too late to start a daily newspaper.
    Was ithe Auckland Sun was the last attempt, but of Course NZH spent twice as much as the startup to make sure it failed( locking in advertisers, paying the staff heaps to stay)

  23. Draco TB 23

    Set up costs are faced by any new entrant in any business. It is hardly unusual.

    True but this prevents these from being a barrier to entry how exactly?

  24. Thanks Tane,

    Interesting read.

  25. bill brown 25

    An interesting discussion on National Radio’s panel highlighted the state of the MSM.

    This story appeared in the DP yesterday:

    Kiwi exodus to Oz likely before election

    However it was shown that this was a completely wrong take on the talk given as heard here (starting about 06:30 in)

    The Panel (Part 2)

    In addition there is an interesting discussion with regards the SST article on the The grass isn’t greener across the ditch article earlier.

  26. One thing I absolutely hate about Fairfax is the number of puff pieces for TradeMe auctions. It’s just ridiculous – we do not need to hear about the stupid auctions people are running. But if we MUST read about them, I want the biggest, most obvious disclaimer to say that Fairfax is the owner of TradeMe. Even if most people are aware of the ownership, this is still a blatant conflict of interest and cheap and shoddy journalism.

    New Zealand media are in dire straits – no public television and the few senior journalists which worked for TVNZ (such as John Stewart) were cut in 2007, minimal quality print media and a funding-starved and stale public radio service. Above all the media are incredibly “unintellectual” – the Sunday Star-Times must surely be written for the level of a five year old. Interestingly the language level of Fairfax papers seems to be much lower than APN (excluding Herald on Sunday). And the ODT is streets ahead of both in terms of accuracy in grammar…

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