NZPA hears the death rattle as Fairfax pulls out

In what could either be seen as another blow to journalism in New Zealand, or a smart business decision that will put an emphasis on exclusive content for the major publishers—and lead to more competition between them—Fairfax has announced that it has discontinued its subscription to the NZPA service, a decision that looks set to bring more than 130 years of news gathering from the press agency in New Zealand to an end.

Following the decision from Fairfax, NZPA’s board announced a review of the agency’s future today and a final decision is expected in a month after a period of consultation with staff and shareholders, made up of Fairfax, APN and other independent publishers.

“Whatever the outcome, there will be new opportunities and in some cases more competition,” says chairman Michael Muir.

Just a few weeks back, NZPA announced it would be protecting its shareholders’ publishing turf by barring some of its current and potential competitors, namely TVNZ and MediaWorks, from signing up for the NZPA feed. But a defection from one of its own—and its major shareholder—certainly seems to be the death knell.

Fairfax says it has been working with NZPA for some time “in an endeavour to obtain an NZPA news service more suitable for Fairfax’s needs”. But because it has built its own integrated editorial business and enhanced its bureau operations, it now has a lesser requirement for NZPA copy than ever before. And as NZPA has not been able to propose a more tailored news service reflecting that reduced requirement at a suitable price, Fairfax has decided to call it quits.

“We have been investing heavily in the development of unique content for Fairfax’s print and online readers,” Fairfax New Zealand chief executive Allen Williams says. “News should not be treated as a commodity. Media companies can and should establish points of difference with their coverage. Fairfax has made a choice to concentrate on development of its own unique content rather than subscribing for non-exclusive content from NZPA. I would expect competition between media businesses to increase as a result of this change.”

Given Nielsen launched its new Consumer and Media Insights Survey this morning to a room full of publishing luminaries and claimed there was a huge amount of collaboration between competitors to get to this point, it’s a slightly ironic date to announce the potential disbanding of an industry co-operative.

As for APN, which has the big boys in Auckland as well as daily papers in Whangarei, Rotorua, Tauranga, Wanganui, Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa and Oamaru, it has agreed to work with independent newspaper companies that run the Otago Daily Times (where it already has a content sharing deal), Gisborne Herald and papers in three South Island centres to form a new news service.

APN NZ chief executive Martin Simons said in the Herald the company had been a longstanding shareholder and customer of NZPA but the agency’s viability could no longer be assured.

“We will have discussions with key NZPA staff [numbering around 40]and work with New Zealand’s independent publishers to tailor a news service to meet the nation’s content needs.”

Fairfax said in the release that it remains committed to membership of the Newspaper Publishers’ Association, which is the industry’s trade body, and to the NZPA’s other commercial services, including the Print Media Copyright Agency, which licences third party organisations to copy and distribute members’ copy.


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