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Red ink

Written By: - Date published: 11:01 pm, December 12th, 2008 - 26 comments
Categories: interweb, Media - Tags:


Jon’s got a serious point though. Newspapers worldwide are in trouble. Many predict they will soon have to be handed out free to commuters in an attempt to keep circulation high enough to run on advertising. Here in New Zealand, the major newspapers’ circulation fell 4% in the last year alone. APN and Fairfax, the duopoly which between them own most of our newspapers are both in deep financial trouble. 

Basically, the Internet is displacing newspapers. David Kirk, the disastrous former head of Fairfax who asset-stripped half of New Zealand’s newspapers (and, incidentally, promotes free-trade zones in NZ with no labour rights and environment laws), blames the decline in revenue from classified advertising as people use Trade Me and the like instead. I think that’s only part of the story. Another part has been that the Internet provides more convenient, specific, and detailed information – both on the mainstream media websites and on topic-specific websites like this one. But the real problem has been the mindset of the likes of Kirk and APN’s Tony O’Reilly, who have fired hundreds of journalists to squeeze a little more profit. That has led to a serious decline in quality as the remaining journos are over-stretched and, too often, not on top of their issues. So not only is the Internet pulling profits and readership from the newspapers, declining quality is driving more and more people away from them.

Now, you might think that as an Internet-based writer I would be happy at that but I’m not. The slow collapse of the newspapers we are seeing leaves us with a serious problem. How will professional journalism be funded if media consumption is moving to a free format where there is little ad revenue to be made? And what ramifications will that have for the media’s crucial role calling those in power to account?

26 comments on “Red ink ”

  1. Lindsey J Rea 1

    I can understand why advertisers have left the Herald in droves. Early this year I tried to advertise my flat in the Herald. I put in the advert and then stayed home on the Saturday morning, waiting for calls that never came. The Herald had not listed my add – some “pagination” problem and had not even had the decency to ring and advise me.
    I put it on Trade Me for a third of the cost and rented it within a week.
    My letter of complaint to the Herald was unanswered and I will never use them again.

  2. Byron 2

    “David Kirk, the disastrous former head of Fairfax…blames the decline in revenue from classified advertising as people use Trade Me and the like instead.”

    Explains why Fairfax purchased Trademe. If thats their main revenue stream though (I have no idea whether it is or not) I wonder if they’d ever stop doing news publishing? Stuff.co.nz must still turn a profit from advertising and archive subscriptions.

    The way to keep quality journalism could be to have a trust that funds journalists to research and write articles which people could donate to, the resulting articles could then be published online with no need for advertising as the costs have already been covered. An idea like this was discussed on Public Address a while back.

  3. lombear 3

    Nanna Herald has been a bad newspaper, biased, insubstantial on world affairs, fine though if you think sports are world affairs.
    I could not tell you the number of times I have picked up that rag to find the world section was about 5 pages and 60% of that was ads. Disgraceful.
    But. I will be sad to see it go.
    The internet is transient, most of what we do on the net will be recorded by someone, somewhere and will live on in some archive, but a newspaper is a commitment, it is printed and handed out, it is never recalled, it is publicly archived (for future reference for, perhaps, our great grandchildren) and it is a slice of life at this point in time. Who doesn’t like finding an old newspaper from the 50’s and chuckling at the naive advertising and cheesy stories, think of all the fun future generations are going to have laughing at George Bush.
    The internet is about to change, moving towards a more controlled, censored pay per view, pay per email model, because basically governments just aren’t making enough money off of it, oh and the fact that some websites have the nasty habit of talking about unpopular truths i.e. ones some governments don’t like. Internet2, here we come.
    Anything digital is a history that can be re-written or removed “he who controls the past blah blah blah…”

  4. Kevin Welsh 4

    Newspapers only have themselves to blame. The increasing ‘tabloidisation’ of a large number of stories, whilst pandering to a specific audience, only turns off people you would classify as regular readers.

    I used to be a newspaper subscriber, but have not done so in about 5 years beacuse of the utter rubbish that gets printed today in the name of journalism.

    I use the internet now as my main source of information and even that has its moments. I find it more than a little disturbing that it is getting harder and harder to find relevant, intelligent journalism that does more than just trivialise or sensationalise.

  5. toms 5

    What the idiots who run APN and Fairfax have done by firing their journalists is they have closed the gap between the blogs – largely unresourced information or op-ed sites for like minded people – and the quality of news and opinion in what their newspapers publish. Since blogs are free, it is a no brainer that people will stop buying, say, the Herald. After all, why read the rubbish Garth George serves up (I defy anyone to argue that he isn’t kept on simply to generate sales by publishing his obnoxious and “controversial” views) when you can see Jon Stewart for free, or read Salon.com for nothing or hang out with angry American liberals at Alternet.org or see the Standard rail against the NUM-Nuts or enjoy the erudite chardonnay socialists at public address?

    Magazines like the Spectator, New Statesman and The Economist are holding steady or actually growing their circulation. To me, this points to a significant market for informed journalism. In a similar vein, the dumbing down of TV so as to make it unwatchable to anyone with an IQ in the top 50% of the population has also driven much of its audience onto the internet, even though the boom is Michael Moore style feature length documentaries shows the hunger for in depth news and current affairs remains. On radio, Radio New Zealand consistantly holds and grows its audience as more and more listeners abandon the banal hate speech of Leighton Smith and formulaic top 40 programming.

    The fact that this should come as a surprise to the executives of Fairfax and APN and to the TV programmers tells a lot about how their globalised, Hobbesian, new-right world view with its inherent contempt for the common weal and democracy has coloured their perceptions of what the public wants to see, hear, and read.

    All humans, rich and poor, well educated and badly educated, retain an inherent fascination and curiosity of the world around them and all of us have the genetic human compulsion to want to know more about those things which might interest us. The hunger remains. The new right ideologues only see the $$$.

  6. ianmac 6

    I get most of my reading news from on-line. The Herald’s redeeming feature is that on-line it is well sorted, quick to navigate. The downside is its bias in my opinion. I read the Press on-line but it is slow and difficult to navigate. It does represent Fairfax as an alternative but….. The interesting up to date stuff comes from blogs like this one and Public Address and I think Pundit will become valuable. No Right Turn has heaps of succinct factual material, and Gordon Campbell does in-depth writing. I do buy the local provincial paper but the internet is far more interactive, like instant letters to the editor with instant publishing and instant debate. Great and wouldn’t mind advertising on this site, especially if it paid for a jounalist or two. How about a subscription here to help cover costs?

  7. Draco T Bastard 7

    I refuse to buy paper versions of newspapers. The worlds already in a bad enough shape due to our depredations and I see no point in making it worse by using up resources that don’t need to be used.

  8. gingercrush 8

    It’d be a sad day when and if we have to depend on blogs for news and the like. Don’t get me wrong, blogs are great. But they have clear biases. The Standard is clearly left, Kiwiblog right. Tumeke iI think they all go too far there Public Address I find rather disinteresting. Pundit is great, really applaud what they’re doing there. We need newspaper or more professional media simply because even if they are bias. They still can mostly post rational viewpoints and are fairly balanced. Most blogs generally can’t offer that balance.


    I don’t buy newspapers simply because it came to the point I was reading one page and completely skimming the rest. Just felt like a complete waste of time.

  9. Lew 9

    Anyone who’s particularly interested in why newspapers the world over are failing horribly would do well to read Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News.

    Incidentally, the question of whether the paper versions subsidise the websites or vice versa is a tricky one. A large chunk of the readership never sets eyes on a dead-trees paper from day to day – but many people use the sites, and most of the actual ad revenue comes from the paper version, still – despite the death of classified advertising, which was the cash cow. Without that ad revenue the newsgathering and production infrastructure to establish a viable online media presence simply can’t happen. Yet.


  10. Lew 10

    GC: There will never be a time when the notional `we’ of which you speak will have to depend on blogs for news. The small reason for this is that blogs aren’t news agencies – they’re opinion, commentary and rarely analysis agencies. Practically none of what blogs do would be possible without the newsgathering apparatus provided by the mainstream media bloggers spend so much of their time bleating about.

    The big reason is already becoming apparent: as blogs tend to become more popular, they will be absorbed and adopted by the mainstream media. If a bunch of amateurs can do it for almost free, imagine what a media company with trained and dedicated staff could do – whether it’s by setting up competing sites (as they are doing), or by making bloggers offers they can’t refuse: here’s $70k a year, let us run advertising on your site and integrate it with our newsgathering infrastructure, and change nothing else. This is already happening as well.


  11. gingercrush 11

    Yes I see what you’re saying but somehow that balance Newspapers can provide etc will eventually disappear and that is the real danger.

  12. Lew 12

    GC: How would it? You answer the question yourself: excessively partisan offerings in a market open up space for other offerings. This is the major constraint which keeps the mainstream media relatively unbiased (or not of consistent bias, shall we say) in small markets like NZ – the business model relies on retaining a substantial audience, which means not ceding ground to major competitors. By the same token, the mainstream media agencies aren’t really all that concerned about the blogs detracting from their audience – in fact, there is a symbiotic relationship, since bloggers must use their resources (and therefore be exposed to their advertising) to be informed about the issues of the day.


  13. John BT 13

    I really like newspapers. A lot. Without them we would not have leftwingers moaning about the rightwing MSM and their capitalist agenda. Nor would we have rightwingers bitching about the looney leftwing MSM and whatever their agenda is.
    Since so much of political blogs relate to stuff from the media what would there be to talk about? And what reasonable person would eat their fish and chips from a plate
    I hope newspapers will always be with us in the same way I hope computers are just a passing fad.

  14. bobo 14

    I thought the herald was a blog? Cut n paste world news papers articles with local commentary..

  15. Chris G 15

    Anyone who wants world news (They dont cover NZ, mind) try Al Jazeera English. Top Quality stuff, you can hit up their daily podcasts and they are fantastic I reckon. Not owned by News Ltd. they get out that crap that pollutes MSM.

    Podcast the other day included a feature on how Murdochs empire will engage with the Obama presidency… interesting stuff.

    Plus they have a habit of showing relatively uncensored news, and why not I say? Fuck the dumbing down of us that the MSM and crap television rams down us. Im sure even you blimmen tories should appreciate that, none of that “Cotton’ wool crap!” aye fellas?

    Plus Jon Stewart is Awseome. What a legend. Although I think he gets most (If not all) material written for him – during the writers strike his show started doing re-runs.

    And to the guy 2 posts above… yeh newspapers are awseome, as Denzil says in Training Day re. papers: “This is 90% bullshit and 10% entertainment!”

  16. the sprout 16

    print media has been enjoying double digit profits for years and their owners’ insistence on maintaining those profit levels had lead to ongoing cuts in staff to the point where their quality has declined disasterously.

    no wonder people don’t bother with them so much any more. most of the time the information is either useless or so transparently biased as to be insulting to anyone with more than half a wit.

    their demise is the fault of greedy owners. what’ll be interesting is how the capital flight they now face will affect ownership patterns: more conglomeration or a re-splintering? i know which would be better for democracy.

  17. infused 17

    Yes, this has been happening for the last 6 or so years. It’s hardly news. Netguide will be dead next year.

  18. Draco T Bastard 18

    Anything digital is a history that can be re-written or remove…

    This has been bugging me and here’s why. Everything on-line has multiple copies backed up in multiple places. To change it would take a massive effort and people will notice and it would only take a simple search of all the digital data to find where and when it was changed. The old print media was probably far more susceptible to being changed simply because of the difficulty in checking. I’d say that with more people knowing the chance of successfully changing something becomes even more remote.

    The problem that we have with blogs is that the people blogging usually aren’t the people going out and getting the information that they blog about. Although I can see this happening in the future as popular blogs do go to a subscription model. I only have one word concerning an advertising model – Adblock+

  19. Redbaiter 19

    The decline in newspapers is a direct result of journalism schools producing journalists who are leftist propagandists rather than those who seek out truth.

    “Journalists” were faced with the dilemma- force our ideology down reader’s throats and go broke or seek out the truth and expose leftism as a fraud.

    They chose the former, and are now reaping their just reward.

    The “Global Warming” fraud being the most salient example. Others include- George Bush lied. The Iraq war was lost. Sarah Palin is a bimbo. Obama will save the world.

    From the New York Times to the Herald and the Dominion, they’ve all lustily promoted the above false templates.

    All just rank left wing propaganda. Who needs it?

    Go broke please. The lot of you. The sooner the better. The better for truth that is.

    BTW, same thing is happening to mainstream television. For the same reasons. Hollywood too. Another disgusting left liberal device. Can’t wait to see them collapse and disappear too. Without these propaganda organs, the left are almost totally disemboweled.

  20. Lew 20

    Redbaiter: One of the ironies of this little rant of yours is that you redefine everything with which you disagree as `left-wing propaganda’. It’s this casual and convenient reclassification which makes it possible for you to discard expert opinion in favour of ideological talking-points. Once the reclassification is done all that remains in your canon of `truth’ is what the rest of the world calls `right-wing propaganda’. Fundamentally your appeal to truth is nothing more than ideological grandstanding: genuine, accepted definitions of `right’, `left’ and `truth’ don’t get a look in. But I suppose you’d argue that that’s because only you and those who agree with you, by virtue of your ideological rectitude, are properly qualified to judge these matters?

    The question of the media and scientific community’s alleged conspiracy against truth comes back to Hume’s Maxim, which governs the choice between unknowable, unverifiable or unbelievable phenomena. Rationally, when faced with an improbable phenomenon (Hume refers to a `miracle’) one may only legitimately accept it if the alternative (that the phenomenon is not so) is less plausible. Essentially, that one must accept the least implausible of given implausible phenomena.

    They chose the former, and are now reaping their just reward.

    So, per Hume’s Maxim, you believe it more plausible than any given alternative that the mass media agencies of the world would collude to suppress the truth in such a way as to destroy their own business model and the foundations of their wealth and power in the world, and that the international scientific community would collude to suppress the truth in such a way as to destroy the economic, technical and industrial base which funds its research?

    That’s ideology talking, not rationality.


  21. Redbaiter 21

    Thanks for that opinion Lew. I take it with the usual grain of salt I take all such subjective rantings from politically one dimensional leftist academics.

    People in the real world observe such simple instances as mainstream media journalists flocking by the plane load to Alaska to seek dirt on Sarah Palin and her family while Obama, a cheap opportunist thug from the most corrupt state in the US, escapes even cursory examination. I don’t need Hume’s Maxim, I merely need my eyes and my common sense.

  22. Pascal's bookie 22

    Shorter Redbaiter:

    What Lew said.

  23. Lew 23

    Redbaiter: Thanks for that opinion Lew.

    It’s not an opinion, it’s an argument based on declared principles and supporting evidence, with which you have chosen not to engage. The fact that you seem unable to differentiate between the two further reinforces my point – that the quality of information or argument matters less to you than its ideological alignment.

    politically one dimensional leftist academics

    `One-dimensional’ would imply that I’m incapable of understanding or accepting any ideological positions other than my own. In fact, by citing Hume’s Maxim in the argument above I explicitly acknowledge the uncertainty of ideas – the possibility that I might be wrong, but that sufficient evidence hasn’t yet become apparent to make me conclude that I am. This is wholly at odds with your own position, which is to discard anything which doesn’t confirm your existing prejudices without even considering it. On the basis of the evidence here, `one dimensional’ applies more aptly to you than to me.

    People in the real world observe […] I don’t need Hume’s Maxim, I merely need my eyes and my common sense.

    Your common sense trumps any part of the theory of rational thought and common logic with which you might disagree in a given case? Let’s try Hume’s own canonical application of his maxim: if a person comes to you and tells you he has seen a man be raised from the dead, do you believe the larger miracle (that the man has in fact been raised from the dead) or the smaller miracle (that the person reporting it has either been deceived, or is deceiving you by saying so)? Go on, Redbaiter – tell me you’d believe that the man had been raised from the dead.

    You’ve done just as I predicted and argued nothing but the line that “only you and those who agree with you, by virtue of your ideological rectitude, are properly qualified to judge these matters”. By your own logic, your assertions should be disqualified on the grounds that they’re one-dimensional and based in ideology rather than rationality. Except now, you’ll argue that the logic applies in only one dimension – if you can do so with a straight face.


  24. Stephen 24

    Would a better word for Redbaiter’s ‘common sense’ be ‘faith’?

    There was actually an article in the Economist recently about Murdoch and the NY Times, and the troubles that they are both experiencing. Interestingly the Times has apparently moved to the internet quite well in terms of the number of people who view it, but hasn’t quite got the ‘business’ side of the sorted:

    …trying to make the Times a national newspaper loosened its essential ties with New York. Mr Sulzberger’s excessive chumminess with some journalists contributed to two scandals that hurt the paper’s reputation: the invented stories of Jayson Blair and the jailing (over her refusal to disclose sources in the Valerie Plame affair) of Judith Miller, a reporter who, the Times later said, it had protected too much…

    …Mr Sulzberger’s [of the Times] problems are largely those of the newspaper industry as a whole, the business model of which has been knocked sideways by the rise of the internet. News Corp’s shares have actually fallen by more this year than those of the New York Times Company…Moreover, the Times has done a better job than almost any other paper (except perhaps the Journal) in moving online. It now boasts the most visited American newspaper website…

    …Yet the harsh fact is that, his fault or not, Mr Sulzberger has yet to find a business model on the web that generates enough money to support the Times’s high-quality, but expensive, global network of reporters. He is running out of time to do so.

    Not sure how useful it is to compare the gigantic News Corp with the NY Times though, seeing as News is so much more than one mere newspaper.

  25. Lombear 25

    I think Redbaiter needs to look up what ‘perceived liberal bias’ is.
    Reddy also sounds like an American who is sad that the puppet on the right didn’t win. 🙁 chin up mate. its just a game.

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