The Hot List winners: Digital Creator & Media Brand

The Spinoff

Nominees: The Wireless, Noted, NZ Herald Focus, Newsroom, Stuff, Vice, Neighbourly, Metservice, Concrete Playground 

As much as digital is often blamed for decimating the revenue stream of traditional media channels, it’s also spawned interesting products that offer users more choice than they’ve ever had in history. In the last few years, we’ve had The Spinoff, The Wireless, Noted, NZ Herald Focus and Newsroom all added to a digital news menu that already includes established players, such as Stuff and Vice. And of those, it’s The Spinoff that stands out as best of the bunch.

The Spinoff’s TV-themed content was originally proposed to be housed in Lightbox’s website. However, with the potential of contravening the SVOD’s contracts, a dedicated standalone website was created. Lightbox is one of a number of sponsors of The Spinoff and the types of content it offers has grown just as rapidly, with stories, videos and podcasts now available through the site and its app.

The Spinoff App launched earlier this year as another means by which to engage audiences. Founder and editor Duncan Greive told StopPress the changes to Facebook newsfeed algorithms—which prioritises a user’s friends and families posts and reduces the number of posts by brands and organisations—got it thinking about how those accessing it via social media were possibly missing stories that would have real resonance with them.

That strategy surrounding social media is a characteristic of all the nominees, with NZ Herald Focus also careful not to post all of its content on Facebook. Instead, managing editor Shayne Currie told StopPress it uses Facebook as a fishing pond for audiences as it posts only a selection of its videos and sometimes only partial videos in order to pull the audience back to its own site where NZME knows the engagement metrics and who the audience is.

Continuing the news trend, RNZ’s The Wireless, Bauer’s Noted, and Tim Murphy and Mark Jennings’ Newsroom are also performing well in the digital media brand category despite being new to the scene and their momentum may one day see them reach the same popularity of established players Stuff and Vice.

But it isn’t just about news in this category. Digital media brands also provide utility. Whether its Neighbourly connecting communities, Metservice keeping New Zealanders up to date on approaching cyclones or Concrete Playground recommending the best things to do, digital media brands have burrowed their way into all the nooks and crannies of our lives.

The winner, The Spinoff, has just done that particularly well—especially with its humorous commentary on reality shows like The Bachelor New Zealand.

One thing that’s certain is that news isn’t dead—it’s just morphing into a new-fangled beast with tentacles stretching into every digital direction. 

People’s Choice Award

The Spinoff​
Our pick for Hottest Digital Brand also picks up the People’s Choice Award with 32.1 percent of the vote. It was a substantial drop for second place, with Vice racking up just 13.6 percent of the vote. Third place goes to Newsroom (12.8 percent), followed closely by Noted on 12.5 percent. 

Harkanwal Singh

Nominees: Toby Morris (The Wireless – The Pencilsword), Lucy Zee (The Wireless – What’s Going On?), Jordan Watson (How to Dad), Jose Barbosa (The Spinoff) 

As The New Zealand Herald’s data editor, Harkanwal Singh takes a fresh approach to journalism by tackling complex topics with interactive visualisations. He’s intrigued readers with information about the most religious suburbs, where and why Maori still smoke, and answers about the population’s wealth. We asked him to fill us in on how it’s all done. 

Who, or what determines what you are going to investigate?
Newsworthiness and availability of data. It’s hard to investigate unless there is data available. Also, if anyone in the newsroom suggests ideas worth investigating.

How long does each project take?
It depends on complexity and what we are creating as end result, but anywhere from one to three weeks.

Do you feel the same pressure as other journalists to churn things out quickly?
There’s always pressure to publish but it’s hard to turn over a visualisation without analysing data. One way I’ve developed as a workaround is to publish visualisations which are updated when new data is released.

From all the investigations you’ve done, what’s been your biggest learning?
You can always do better in communicating the complexity of the data because headlines can rarely capture it.

Your projects are very popular and raise a lot of eyebrows. Which piece of work has generated the most response?
Probably the burglaries crime map, in terms of analytics and responses. 

Your journalism with data is quite unique, do you think journalists should have more skills to deal with and present data?
As data becomes more pervasive, journalists will be required to up-skill to understand and communicate data.

Do you think universities prepare students for the demands of real data journalism? Is it easier to teach statisticians how to write or writers how to work with numbers?
Journalism schools in New Zealand are nowhere near close to preparing students for future challenges. The gap is staggering and doesn’t seem to be improving. I haven’t done much teaching to know which is easier; ideally, you actually want someone who can code and communicate.

Numbers can be spun into virtually any narrative. So what steps do you take to ensure your reporting is objective?
I don’t think numbers can be spun into ‘virtually any narrative’. There are interpretations and there can be competing ones, but if your data and methodology are good and repeatable, then it is closer to objectivity. I’d double-check with agencies that produce data and interview experts on the topic.

What did you think of Winston Peters questioning your objectivity?
Winston Peter’s questions were about my objectivity as an ‘Asian immigrant’ journalist rather than as a data journalist, which says a lot. I cannot change my ethnicity but I am more than happy to discuss data.

What will data journalism look like in the future?
As the quote goes, predictions are hard, especially about the future. Data journalism internationally has and will continue to become more mainstream. In New Zealand, it will depend on the shape of the market and whether journalism schools rise to the challenge. 

People’s Choice Award

Jordan Watson
‘How to Dad’ Jordan Watson’s humorous and blokey take on modern day childcare has certainly struck a chord with Kiwi parents, attracting 36.6 percent of the public’s vote. Second place was a close battle between The Spinoff’s audio/visual guru Jose Barbosa (19.3 percent), and Lucy Zee’s wry and alternative commentary for The Wireless (18.3 percent). 

​​We’ll be posting the rest of the Hot List over the next week. To get a print copy of the Hot List, subscribe here to NZ Marketing.

  1. The Hot List winners: Magazine & Editor
  2. The Hot List winners: Radio
  3. The Hot List winners: Television
  4. The Hot List winners: News Anchor, Production Company & Social Presence

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