Pacific Media Watch

27 August 2011

NZ: 'Fierce' NZPA news agency showdown looms

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Closure of NZPA ... end of a 132-year era. Photo: NZPA

Sophie Tarr

SYDNEY (The PANPA Bulletin/Pacific Media Centre):Three new services are clamouring to fill the gap that will be created when historic wire service the New Zealand Press Association closes at the end of the month.

Publishers Fairfax Media and APN News & Media, plus Australian Associated Press (AAP), are all making their move.

Editors predict fierce competition for readers, journalists and scoops.

“We’re looking forward to the battle,” APN publishing chief Martin Simons said.

His company will launch APNZ Newswire, a joint venture with independents the Otago Daily Times and Allied Press, Greymouth Star, Ashburton Guardian, Westport News and Gisborne Herald.

Simons said it would be “a very different organisation from the NZPA”, promising copy for a younger audience.

'More contemporary'
“The aim is to have a service that is more contemporary and less institutional,” he said.

“We do a lot of product testing and research to understand what readers want to read, so we do think there is a demand.”

The 17-journalist service, led by editor Chris Reed, will have offices in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland.

It will feed newspapers and websites across APN and independents.

APN acting head of content Rick Neville, who will be Reed’s boss, said: “All papers have a responsibility to file stories to the news service.”

This is similar to the traditional NZPA model, before copy-sharing ceased in 2006.

The agency is closing because Fairfax pulled its funding. Now the Australian-owned publisher has established Fairfax New Zealand News, based on company-wide bureaux for politics, sport, business and Auckland news.

Silo-based approaches
This replaces a system in which each masthead had a number of silo-based approaches, including individual political editors.

Some 12 staff have been hired. Former NZPA editor Kevin Norquay and news editor Greg Tourelle will lead the project.

NZ executive editor Paul Thompson said: “We’re interested in carving out distinctive stories and moving away from NZPA-style newswire stories.”

FNZN would be “truly our new river of gold - a rich, robust, diverse flow of relevant and independent journalism to our readers”, he wrote in a staff email.

Fears that NZPA’s closure would mean important stories were not covered were unfounded, he said.

Rather, readers would benefit as publishers competed for staff and stories.

“It’s hard to see, across all the publishers, that we won’t cover that same breadth of content in a new way,” he said.

Pivotal role
AAP plays a pivotal role for both publishers, and will launch its own service, New Zealand Newswire (NZN), in early September.

Fairfax will take AAP’s Australian service and APN has opted for its international wire, which also includes Australian news and sport. But neither company is signing up for NZN.

APN’s Simons said the AAP would be “challenged” to find a gap in the market “given the competitive nature of the two major groups”.

AAP editor-in-chief Tony Gillies predicted “strong demand” from media organisations other than the two publishers.

Gillies’ service has a 10-strong team plus stringers. NZN journalists would be multimedia capable, he said.

“Our offering is tailored for all platforms. Our content will be any-format ready,” he said.

Former NZPA editor Nick Brown will oversee NZN, which is mainly staffed from NZPA’s ranks.

Many of the agency’s 40- plus journalists have been snapped up for one of the new services.

Fairfax’s Thompson said: “Good reporters are like hens’ teeth so we’re all looking after our own.”

'Sad day'
The head of the New Zealand Newspaper Publishers’ Association, which has operated NZPA, said the closure would be a “sad day”.

“We won’t be in the news business anymore,” chief executive Tim Pankhurst said. “After 132 years, it will be quite a legacy.

“We won’t end on a note of recriminations and bitterness, and we don’t want that.

“We want to look back on NZPA’s achievements.

“The last word of the last message we send out will be "ends".

(cc) Creative Commons

Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators. (cc) Creative Commons