‘Well, that’s one way to announce your arrival’

Newsroom, a new independent and high quality news and current affairs website we are launching soon, made its public debut yesterday via the grand and important forum of the website of the New Zealand Commerce Commission.

If that doesn’t make it official, what does?

News of the venture that Mark Jennings, ex head of news and current affairs at TV3, and I are forming was included in documents lodged with the Commission by the two applicants for #StuffMe, Fairfax and NZME, to support their argument that their merger won’t harm plurality of journalistic voices.

Someone who’d been provided our presentation – or expression of interest – pack which we’d emailed selected corporates and a specialised agency or two had done the age-old trick from marketing land and passed it to the two big players.

Which we could hardly complain about—as journalists and editors who have had the drop on competitors’ product plans over the years through such unethical practices.

In fact, the inclusion of the presentation as proof of NZME and Fairfax’s argument that new voices would arise in the Year Zero days after a #StuffMe merger, made us smile. 

When Mark and I first announced our hope of launching a new site to do quality journalism back in May, the same parties listed us as competition in Commerce Commission documents filed the very next day.

Back to yesterday. We were, as it happens, about to go public in the next week or two; most ducks were, as they say, in a row, and being outed is a bit of a blessing in moving things along even faster than planned. The ‘working’ masthead design on the preso will very likely improve and one or more of the content partners may change, but things have substantially come together.

To use the old tabloid ‘screamer’ headline: ‘It’s Official!’

Newsroom.co.nz is our planned site and brand. We’ve gathered some top editors, digital journalists and video experts and we have what we think is a sustainable and high-appeal answer to filling a gap in the journalism market for Real News. Internally, we’re calling our content target the ‘Things that Matter’.

It will use fresh digital and social media approaches – will be optimised for mobile consumers – and be classy, calm and contemporary. Newsroom will feature video news and current affairs prominently and cleverly.

It will be targeted at an audience that in broad terms we’ve defined as New Zealanders who care. News hounds. People who vote. People aware of the needs of good journalism in a democracy like ours.

Our plan is actually two plans: a direct specialist news service for paying subscribers called Newsroom Pro, and an open public site for quality journalism called Newsroom.co.nz which will be funded by four to five revenue streams including corporate sponsors as founding supporters.

The existing Newsroom.co.nz site (if you go there now it is a service page for people to subscribe to the clearing house for press releases by political parties, government agencies and companies – but that is about to change) will form out of a small but interesting business now owned by MySublime NZ.

MySublime is run by Craig Pellett who with his brother Selwyn is a technology investor and entrepreneur. They bought Newsroom from none other than the NZX, our stock exchange company, after it had been purchased by one Mark Weldon when he was chief executive. The Pelletts wanted to use it to develop a news service of scale and have supported our concept from the early days.

It already has a client base of professional service firms, corporates, government and local government agencies who need up to the minute, unvarnished access to a vast array of public announcements.  The service also sums up key news bulletins, newspaper front pages and issues transcripts of major weekend TV interviews.

We are working with the outstanding journalist and digital news activist Bernard Hickey to add his separately successful Hivenews.co.nz daily feed of economics and political news to the Newsroom Pro offering. Then we will add three or four more experienced journalists and additional subject areas to provide a comprehensive paid content offering.

Newsroom Pro will cover Economics and trade, Politics and policy, Environment and Sustainability, Energy and Technology when it is launched in February when the business and political world returns to work.

Newsroom aims to fill an unmet need for an independent, scalable and substantial provider of news and analysis on the things that matter to New Zealanders.

The subscription service is one half of that plan. Those who are prepared to pay for the private benefit of expert news will also be supporting the other half, the public good of an open, free and general interest news website.

Our focus will be on news. ‘Doing the News’ as Jeff Daniels’ character Will McAvoy declares early on in the hit HBO TV series “The Newsroom’.

Newsroom.co.nz will not be a place for cheap celebrity, rehashes of tweets, much crime or court news, or foreign titillation dressed up to make you press on your phone or click on your mouse.

We will be rigorous in weeding out fake news, such as that plaguing Facebook and other digital platforms in the United States and elsewhere during the US election.

New Zealanders want quality, real news and analysis. It need not and will not be dull. Experienced and high-profile journalists will work to put things in context, but in an appealing, interpretative style.

We identified 33 subject areas we believe the major media players have been forced to withdraw from covering in any detail or depth because of the cuts to staffing and capability forced on them by digital disruption taking away their advertising dollars and readers.

We’ve narrowed that to about nine to ten main areas of things that matter – subjects we think New Zealanders want to see examined fairly and calmly and in depth.

We will work with the peerless international news agency, the Associated Press, and other partners to bring global issues that matter to a New Zealand audience.

Newsroom.co.nz’s journalism will be independent – politically non-partisan, not part of the big four of Fairfax, NZME, Mediaworks or TVNZ, and with editorial independence resting solely with the co-editors.  We’ll have an advisory board to keep us to our task.

Our audience work has helped us define who we think will read and watch us. We aim to serve those aged 25 plus (and not stopping in their mid 50s) who care enough to vote, read, debate and share serious views and news.

Launch year 2017 is New Zealand’s general election year.  We intend to contribute substantially to examination of public issues in the lead-up to the vote.

We are talking now to potential cornerstone investors and are happy to use the Commerce Commission’s pre-announcement to welcome investment interest from anyone who supports Newsroom’s goals. 

We have already had strong encouragement from actual and potential investors who will take equity in the Newsroom NZ Ltd company. At its core, this will be ‘purpose’ investing; supporting a business for the benefits it can bring to the public as well as any private gain.

And the companies we seek to be Founding Supporters as sponsors of subject areas are those for whom New Zealand’s future matters. Some of them have chief executives and boards who have spoken out on the need for improved debate and analysis on big issues facing this country.

As evidenced by our presentation – or ‘marketing literature’ as the Commission Commission website so quaintly labels it – we are out there now talking to corporates and institutions with a strong sense of New Zealandness and a willingness to back our vision in keeping with what their brands are striving to achieve.

We don’t pretend that Newsroom.co.nz or Newsroom Pro will have all the answers.  We’re starting out with a modest sized team of excellent people with real experience, judgment and good instincts in text and video storytelling.

Good journalists are doing good work within Fairfax, NZME, the two TV channels, Radio NZ and elsewhere. Our friends at the wonderful thespinoff.co.nz and the new entrant on the feature and opinion scene, Noted.co.nz also provide quality offerings in their areas, although Noted is more of an aggregator of magazine content than a creator.

We’re an alternative.  Focused on news.

We want to add to all of their work by creating a sustainable twin-pillar model for quality and independent New Zealand news. And to provide them some competition along the way.

Whether it can ever be enough competition for a #StuffMe giant is arguable.  The Commission’s preliminary decision declining the merger was at pains to say no current news website, nor prospective providers entering the market, could hope to ‘constrain’ #StuffMe.

But we’re going to give it a go in the quality news market.  There has been wonderful, unprompted, support from people way beyond the journalism or media bubble who think there is a need…. and want Newsroom to succeed.

Watch out on the Commerce Commission website for our next press release on progress towards that goal. 

  • Tim Murphy, the former editor and editor-in-chief of the New Zealand Herald and nzherald.co.nz will be co-editor, with Mark Jennings, of the Newsroom venture. ([email protected] )

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