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When a newspaper gets useful…

Written By: - Date published: 11:28 am, April 24th, 2010 - 7 comments
Categories: International, Media, newspapers - Tags: ,

Public transport in Sydney - CityLinkThere is an interesting post by Jeremy Harris at the Auckland Transport Blog – “Independent Inquiry On Sydney’s PT“.

Sydney has higher PT use than Auckland though for two main reasons:

  • It has a very dense, large CBD, where 70% of workers arrive by public transport.
  • It was much larger than Auckland in the days where railways took precedence over roads and had a large electrified rail system by the 1920s, which has a CBD loop, and has served the city relatively well.

Apart from that our cities are relatively similar transport-wise, there is almost no grid road system in Sydney and public transport services are disjointed, with a mixture of public and private providers and with no clear public planning agency and accountability.

Apparently the Sydney Morning Herald got annoyed with the dithering and sponsored a independent study on what could be done to improve transport systems in Sydney. You can read more about the summarized results in the post at ATB (the draft report is 500 pages). But they can be even more summarized as

  • don’t bother with more inner-city motorways
  • integrate the transport planning
  • integrate the public transaction ticket systems
  • fix the public transport routing and frequencies
  • concentrate on smaller coordinated projects rather than grandiose schemes
  • fund the transport systems rationally

In short all of the things that this current government isn’t doing. It looks to me like Steven Joyce has no more long-term plan for Auckland’s transport woes than funding motorway construction companies and property developers outside the city, plus of course political point scoring.

As Jeremy says:-

What I found striking reading the report is how it could have been written for Auckland. Of the six points above not a single one doesn’t apply to Auckland and would be beneficial if introduced here. We should look at adopting many of it’s recommendations and recognise how they replicate the systems in cities with good public transport as diverse as London to Curitiba.

I can’t see a price tag for the study, but I wouldn’t expect it to be that expensive. Frequently people are happy to give up their time when they know it helps make a difference. And one of the benefits of the net is that it can help to massively reduce costs of collaborative efforts. You only have to look at sites like this to understand why. This site since its inception in August 2007 has cost somewhere in the order of $2500 in actual cash. All of the effort and time spent has been done in voluntary collaborative effort by many people who often know quite a lot about what they’re writing on. Frequently they’re over shadowed by the quality of the commentators.

But what really intrigued me about this story on Sydney was that a newspaper did something more useful for their city than simply report news and run waffle to protect their advertising streams which seems to be the NZ Heralds  campaigns.  Speaking as a person who has grown up with the net during my adult life, I started finding our newspapers largely irrelevant a long time ago.

Many newspapers simply slipped into repeating press statements, overseas news, and vacuous gossip long ago – all of which I can get faster, cheaper, and usually better on-line.  The opinion pieces are often interesting, but frankly there is better informed material around the blogosphere by people and sites (like ATB) who actually know what they’re talking about. Newspapers have the capability to go more in-depth on issues than TV, and are a lot less shallow than radio (apart from NatRad), but they seldom exercise it.

These days I find that I merely skim NZ Heralds online site or a paper copy while getting coffee looking for the few stories that are genuinely interesting. Most of those are local Auckland city news. I probably spend almost as much time weekly on reading Auckland City Harbour News which has really local material that I can’t get anywhere else.

I spend far more time reading my online subscription to global systems like The Economist, experts-exchange.com and a few others because they have authoritative material. Most of my reading is on-line, pretty specific, in-depth, usually free, and relies on the cross-reference linking in the articles. Programmers get virtually all of their technical material by researching from the net these days.

None of those attributes describes the material in the NZ Herald (especially their almost complete lack of links). I’m probably further into the bleeding edge than most simply because that is where I’ve been most of my life. However I suspect that newspapers will either have to adapt to the changing world or go the way of the dinosaur.

This is a worldwide trend with mere repeaters of stories like the NZ Herald steadily shrinking. Meanwhile global publications with informed new material like the Wall Street Journal and The Economist are managing to reduce their losses or even gain new subscribers. The genuinely local papers also appear to be doing fairly well because they are hooked into their communities.

I suspect that the Sunday Morning Herald is aware of that localizing trend, and I’m frankly envious of Sydney for having a paper doing local research. That is the type of material that I’d get a subscription to read.

7 comments on “When a newspaper gets useful… ”

  1. Ianmac 1

    Its that vicious circle LPrent. The fewer people reading the hard copy the less money for reporting, and so on. I kept an eye on the Press online re Ecan and they did publish stuff. Will it have an effect?
    Since nearly all the publicity is centred on Auckland how about a word in favour of reinvigorating the Rail Commuting for Christchurch? From the North and Rangiora a dormitory suburb. From the South Templeton suburb. From the East Lyttleton. The rail already exists. Integrate for a population of over 500,000.

  2. Kevin Welsh 2

    Joyce should be forced to read jarbury’s transport blog every day till it finally sinks in that motorways are not the future of transport in this country.

    Auckland Transport blog is without a doubt one of the best blogs around (next to The Standard, of course :-)), and even though I do not live in Auckland, it has relevance for other urban areas in New Zealand.

    Great post LP.

  3. lprent 3

    Ianmac: You or one of the other locals should write a post. The only time I’ve spent any time in Canterbury was when I was at Burnham camp in the late 70’s for 6 weeks. You may have noticed that most (but not all) of the authors appear to be based in either Auckland or Wellington based.

    The newspapers do have an effect when they write critical authorative material. I have been around enough politicos getting wound up by newspapers to see the strategy and tactics adjust. The problem is that the newspapers seldom exercise that ability because they don’t research enough to affect policy.

    (I wish there was a reply button on the theme we use for smartphones)

    • Ianmac 3.1

      Sadly LPrent I don’t live in Canterbury. In our South Island town debate is whether or not to install our first traffic lights, and how to protect our untreated wonderful pure town water supply, from being treated with chlorine. I see that the problems with transport that Auckland faces is one for every town big or small. It toll for me and thee!

  4. Kevin, I have mulled over whether or not I would like Steven Joyce to regularly read my (and Jeremy’s) blog. While I hope it would give him some good ideas and change his thinking on transport issues…. considering every second post hassles him…. well, yeah.

    Thanks for the link LPrent, and I agree it’s very interesting to see the Sydney Morning Herald sponsor such an inquiry. The people who undertook the study are at the very top of their fields – for example Jarrett Walker of the utterly superb Human Transit blog: http://www.humantransit.org/

    If only the NZ Herald did something similar here…. it would be interesting to see the results.

  5. ghostwhowalksnz 5

    The profits are still running at something like 20% of revenue. So while income is down the share that the owners get has increased, while that that is spent on staff costs has dropped way way down

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