In 2012 I was invited to speak at the New Zealand Community Newspapers Association awards dinner.
I made my speech about how the future of publishing news was in their hands and they didn’t even know it.
As Fairfax and APN (then, NZME. now) got bigger they had ignored the local news. They concentrated more and more on Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch.
Those papers that did the basics well locally were actually able to grow if they just thought about it and got even more parochial. Even in Auckland there were opportunities, like the Howick and Pakuranaga Times…unfortunately they were at the time in the thrall of a couple of wide boys talking the big game in digital without even bothering to understand their audience or what they were even doing.
Karl du Fresne has a blog post about just those sorts of sentiments, that “boutique” is profitable and lucrative and perhaps the way of the future for local news.
It’s rare these days to hear about any development in the news media that’s worth celebrating, but the announcement that the Wairarapa Times-Age is reverting to local ownership is a tonic.
After 12 years in what is now the NZME (previously known as APN) stable, the Masterton-based Monday-Friday paper is being bought by its general manager, Andrew Denholm. My guess is that other local money is involved, although I have no inside knowledge.
The news is encouraging for several reasons. For a start, it represents a tiny reversal of a trend that has greatly diminished the relevance of local papers.
The process of agglomeration by which provincial papers such as the Times-Age were gobbled up in the late 20th century by the two big industry players of the time, INL and Wilson and Horton, was once overwhelmingly positive for the industry.
It gave small, previously family-owned papers access to capital with which to invest in vital new technology. It brought them into a nationwide career structure that lifted professional standards and it also meant that small papers were less likely to be captive to local parochial interests.
That all worked well while the two big companies remained in New Zealand hands. The turning point came when the Australian outfits Fairfax (which acquired INL) and APN (which bought Wilson and Horton) moved in.
Australian ownership has not been good for the New Zealand print media. Their disregard for the New Zealand way of doing things was never more obvious than when they dismantled the New Zealand Press Association, thus ending a system of news sharing that had lasted more than a century and ensured that newspaper readers in Whangarei and Gisborne knew about things of importance that were happening in Invercargill and Greymouth.
Sharing wasn’t the Australian way, so it was scrapped.
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