One of the more interesting changes within the compact is the inclusion of a daily obituaries page covering international, national and some local deaths. This was something Courtney says she drove from the beginning and tested with readers.
“We know that print subscribers do turn to the death notices as they are an older audience. There was an element of surprise from staff that we were going to have [a daily obituaries page], I said to them 'often the most extraordinary lives are not the famous lives…if you can tell it well it’s a great read', so we’re putting a lot of stock into that.”
The process was fun but Courtney says at the heart of every decision was the reader, but not forgetting the advertiser.
“All of the advertisements and the way we sell our ads have changed – they’ve all moved to modular shape which is going to be much easier for advertisers to book their ad campaigns.”
Despite these big moves for the company including a name change in August last year, it hasn’t been a totally smooth ride for Stuff with the announcement in February to close or sell 28 community print mastheads, a decision Courtney says wasn’t taken lightly.
She says the company is still committed to those local communities that were impacted, giving the example of Hawkes Bay where two titles - Napier Mail and Hastings Mail – will close this month but Stuff has retained the two reporters based in the region.
She puts forward Neighbourly, Stuff’s website designed to help Kiwis connect with their neighbours.
“Where the community print titles have been closed, there is a Neighbourly site and the community will still be able to access all the local content through the platform…we still have reporters in newsroom in all of big regions and in most of the smaller communities. We’re still covering those areas, we just don’t have a print title where it’s not viable.”
While Fairfax Media in Australia moved some papers from broadsheets to compact in 2013, Courtney says New Zealand did look at doing the same over the years but the time was never quite right.
“Obviously The New Zealand Herald went first…but Sinead Boucher decided it was time we had a new format and the appetite was there. It’s always a risk but we’re backing ourselves and we know from the focus groups and the prototypes that they loved the size and really liked the content and felt they were getting more value in their paper.”
New papers, new role
Among all this work and change of the compact, Courtney has had to adjust to her new role. She will continue to be based in Wellington but will travel and work out of the regional newsrooms.
The creation of the position came about when Boucher was made chief executive, necessitating a hunt for a new editorial director. That role was taken by Mark Stevens, who was previously group editor of digital and visual, and decided to restructure his senior team down to four from around eleven.
“I essentially look after all of our newsrooms bar Auckland which has its own designated editor-in-chief. That role has not been filled but we have an Auckland editor in place for six months – Blair Ensor who has been seconded from the Christchurch newsroom where he was chief news director.”
Having been in her previous job for years, almost a decade as editor at The Dominion Post, she says leaving that was a “little bit of a wrench” when you live and breathe something for so long.
However, she is adamant it's time for a new editor and some fresh ideas, and is happy with the appointment of Eric Janssen, who was the chief news director, into that role.
“He’s got some great idea for the newsroom and The Dominion Post.”
Looking ahead at new challenges and opportunities, she says the chance to work with newsrooms and mentor and coach young editors is something she loves and what her new role plays to, exciting her greatly.
Calling Stuff a “pretty brave company” for looking outside of journalism, acquiring partnerships and investments in start-ups such as Stuff Fibre and digital energy business EnergyClubNZ, Courtney says it's all about keeping journalism alive and investing in journalism.
“Money that is made through these other businesses comes back into insurance that we can still deliver the best journalism.”
Having been a journalist for 30 years, Courtney says what amazes her now is the speed of change.
“It’s a tough industry to be in, you have to be up for change. You have got to give them a reason to come to you, be it print, online or podcast.
“We don’t know what’s around the corner, we don’t know what new phones, gadgets, or way people are going to access news but what we know is that people want news and it doesn’t matter really how you access it as long as you still get it.”