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Key on ropes as Fairfax grope for a lifeline back to the people

March 4, 2012

National’s heartland backlash echoes Fairfax’s credibility collapse.

Since becoming leader of the National Party, and then elected as Prime Minister four years ago, Wall Street banker John Key has been able to rely on Fairfax Media to offer a handkerchief and say ‘bless you’ every time he sneezed.

But, today’s Sunday Star Times suggests that this anti-democratic relationship has – in the end – served only to damage both.  The frontpage headline ‘Key’s heartland backlash’ has Fairfax’s Sunday newspaper suddenly distancing itself from a dogmatic Rightwing Government in freefall, and desperately looking for a way back to centrist credibility.  

Fairfax political editor and unofficial National Party press secretary, Tracy Watkins, has been sidelined, with the more moderate John Hartevelt handling a political front page lead that, for almost the first time in five years, doesn’t look like it was written by the National Party.  As this Government’s popularity suddenly collapses, have Fairfax finally decided to abandon their unhealthy partisanship, in a last ditch attempt to save themselves from commercial disaster and media irrelevancy?

Quite possibly.

Fairfax’s publications have been long regarded by many thinking New Zealanders as something of a sad joke.  Their commercial demise has been documented alongside their journalistic one on this blog, and few in the capital take The Dominion Post for anything other than National Party propaganda these days.  Their stuff.co,nz website increasingly attracts heavy journalistic criticism attached to the comments forum of stories, and the most damning of these are censored by Fairfax themselves.  A Facebook page and blog dedicated to holding this company to account has fueled the debate for three years, and while much of their demise is of their own making, we have clearly had a dramatic impact on how New Zealanders view their work.

CIrculation is in freefall; they now quote ‘readership’ rather than ‘circulation’ to advertisors and subscribers, and recent financial figures published on this page show that, while their rivals are riding out tough economic times, Fairfax are struggling to attract advertisors as well as subscribers.  Fairfax are, it seems, in a desperation of their own editorial making.  In fact, just last week, I recieved a letter from Dominion Post editor, Bernadette Courtney, saying that: “Because we really want you back we have put together this exclusive offer, all for the low price of just $5.40 per week.”  This exclusive offer consists of six newspapers, delivered to the door, plus a subscription to a glossy monthly magazine.  At about half the price of a pint in most Wellington bars, this unsustainable initiative points to abject desperation at Fairfax Media, and genuinely makes me sad.

As I’ve always said, I love newspapers.  I’ve grown up with them.  I’ve studied, practiced and taught journalism, and literally had newspapers for breakfast for much of my life.   Like many who’ve lost faith in the industry, I don’t need some special offer that virtually gives the product away.  I want to see news media flourishing, making healthy profits, and employing fairly paid staff.  If the product is striving for fairness, accuracy and balance, and holding those in power to account, rather than misleading the people on their behalf, I will gladly renew my subscription and welcome the reporters’ analysis back into my home.  And, if Fairfax Media are genuinely signalling a return to real journalism and abandoning National Party spin, I’ll be the first to sing their praises from the capital’s rooftops.

As always, you can rely on this site to keep you posted.  Thank you for helping to make a difference.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/6519680/Heartland-backlash-over-Crafar-farm-fallout

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2 Comments
  1. Neil, I concur with every sentence; every word; every punctuation mark you made with this piece.

    Once upon a time, in the 1990s, I used to buy the Evening Post religiously; every day. In fact, I got “antsy” if I missed an issue. During important events such as elections, I bought the DOMINION as well.

    And I felt informed. I knew what what going on.

    Then came the amalgamation; the cutbacks of staffing levels; the superficial “stories”; the lack of in-depth coverage and analysis; and the consistency of covering certain areas day after day.

    These days, how many people know what’s happening, for example, with the Wellington City Council? Bugger all, I’ll bet. Fairfax has gone from 2 to 3 full time journos covering the Council to one journo covering the WCC part-time.

    On top of that, the paper is getting thinner – less pages.

    Quite simply, Fairfax is making itself irrelevant and if they keep it up, they will vanish into history. Which is a real shame, as newspapers have a place in society – but only if they offer a quality, reliable product that is “news you can use” (to quote the old “City Voice” paper).

    The only use currently for the DP is on my kittylitter tray.

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