The departures of Tim Murphy and Mark Jennings from their respective roles as the editor in chief of the New Zealand Herald and head of news at MediaWorks were both mourned as casualties of the changing media landscape.
However, the social media anguish seems to have been pre-emptive.
Earlier today, Jennings and Murphy told StopPress that they were launching a media consultancy called Jennings/Murphy, which would provide strategic media assistance to businesses or individuals looking for advice across editorial, video production, strategic comms and media.
The pair will shortly launch their new website, and Jennings invites those interested in their services to approach them.
With decades of experience between them, countless contacts and inside knowledge of the challenges facing modern media companies, the pair do seem well suited to providing strategic advice for corporates struggling in this space.
The launch of the consultancy does not, however, imply that the newsmen have departed journalism for good.
In addition to starting this business, the pair also unveiled—cue widespread journalistic cheers—plans to start a news site together.
“We are hoping to develop a home for quality news journalism here that will hopefully fill the gap from which mainstream media has withdrawn a bit,” says Murphy.
He says the site won’t be broken into verticals, and that it will instead focus on telling stories that matter.
“Things that matter can apply to sport, it can apply to entertainment, it can apply to media or it can apply to social issues. If you think it matters, you should be able to find it in a news service easily.”
This is in line with the approach used by Vice, which is based on the fact that readers have a broad range of interests.
Not dull or straight-laced
Murphy says the aim is to develop a site that’s led by editorial judgement rather than web analytics. “We’ve got to turn away from clicks to clocks,” he says quoting a speaker at the recent International News Media Association Awards in London.
“We certainly don’t think there’s a market for something that’s dull or unworthy either. We’re not interested in setting up something that’s straight-laced niche play. It’s got to be broad and it’s got to have high appeal.
“There will be news, current affairs and investigations. And it will be about communicating in a more conversational way than traditional news.”
At this point, Jennings steps into the conversation and reminds me that the website hasn’t launched yet.
“I was smiling when Tim was saying, it’s going to be this and it’s going to be that, because we’re not off the ground yet,” Jennings says.
Like Murphy, he does, however believe there’s a clear gap in the market for the type of stories they’re hoping to tell.
“There’s constant feedback coming to us, with people saying, ‘Why can’t we have this sort of news? Why do we have to scroll to the bottom of Stuff or NZ Herald to find the stories we want? We don’t want the car crashes, we don’t want the Bachelor stories and we don’t want the lost dogs.’.
“We want to make sure that this isn’t just a case of people telling us what we want to hear. We want to make sure there’s a real gap here. And if there is, we’ll look to pursue that.”
As is the case with the biggest commercial player or the smallest niche site, running a digital news platform requires money. And Jennings and Murphy are looking to finance their venture with a diverse range of revenue streams.
Jennings says the traditional approach to funding news is no longer effective and that it requires a more fragmented approach.
“We think the model will require funding from a number of sources,” the former MediaWorks news boss says. “That can range from corporate backing to some advertising to some founding fundamental investment from shareholders. It might even include some philanthropic approach too, where readers can voluntarily support this project.”
They agree that the aim at the beginning would be to keep the running costs as low as possible while the platform gains momentum.
This approach isn’t that dissimilar from what The Spinoff does, and both Jennings and Murphy admit to being fans of the site (and this is reflected in both having contributed to the site since leaving their respective roles).
One thing that’s clear is that The Spinoff’s success isn’t built on burying its homepage under a mountain of clickbait, but rather on producing something that entertains, interests and, sometimes, angers its readers.
And if another high quality voice like this is added to local media, there will be few complaints from the public.