Hard News by Russell Brown


Trust. Us.

Stephen Judd raised an interesting idea yesterday in discussion of this week's Media7 programme on the demise of the 115 year-old Levin Daily Chronicle, after I commented thus:

Tonight's Media7 looks at the portents of APN's conversion of the Levin Daily Chonicle to a bi-weekly freesheet. It's the PANPA 2007 small newspaper of the year, the APN newspaper of the year, it has increased its (admittedly modest) circulation and it's not losing money. If it were independently-owned, it would probably still be a real newspaper.

One issue: these small papers pay a chargeback to APN for accounting services -- and it's several times what those papers would have to pay to just employ an accountant. It seems that APN corporate taps the small assets hard to try and recoup more group costs.

When you note that there's a strong implication (by a councillor and defeated mayoral candidate) that the Levin council helped get rid of its feisty problem paper by withdrawing $60,000 pa in advertising and giving it to a docile freesheet, it casts an interesting light on APN's chest-beating about a free press.


I should have noted that the smaller Fairfax papers probably face similar fish hooks. It's a corporate media fact of life, especially when your national newspaper market is essentially an offshore-owned duopoly.

We're losing family proprietors, who used to play a strong role in the free press, but I'd hope that "trust media", in the mould of the Guardian, will begin to fill the gap. David Geffen and his mates should just have bought the LA Times back from the Tribune group when people were talking about it. Perhaps they're waiting till it's been completely sucked dry.

Then Stephen said:

As far as the Guardian and its funding go: l pledge $100 this year and every year that I am employed, towards any trust or non-profit body that will employ journalists, in any medium, to research, and write or produce really good New Zealand stories.

I bet if a few other PA posters and lurkers did the same, we could get an article or two out of it at rates that would be better than the current freelance ones.

I think it's something worth at least discussing (and also, if it's worth doing, doing at a greater scale than just the audience here). I'm genuinely concerned about the draining of expertise and experience from print journalism, especially amongst freelancers, and about the lack of resourcing for strong reporting and feature writing.

I've banged on about the strength of the Guardian model in speeches before -- although it's worth noting that the newspaper itself loses money -- it's supported by less exalted publications in the Guardian Media Group, which "exists to support the core purpose of its owner, the Scott Trust: to secure the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity."

In 1992, the Scott Trust refined its central objective thus:

To secure the financial and editorial independence of The Guardian in perpetuity: as a quality national newspaper without party affiliation; remaining faithful to liberal tradition; as a profit-seeking enterprise managed in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

What declared view of the world should such a trust have? It's certainly possible to establish non-partisan good faith in such a venture: The Pew Charitable Trusts were founded on extreme right-wing Christian oil money (and they still send a few evangelical kids to Bible universities), and yet I -- godless liberal that I am -- place great trust in the integrity of the various Pew research projects. And yet, both practically and philosophically, The Guardian's constitution demonstrates the virtue of some political clarity.

On the other hand, actually publishing rather than simply financing good independent journalism is a big job. In the US, there are many existing precedents, some very well established, for the non-profit funding of journalism projects. They provide material to PBS and a range of newspapers and magazines.

In New Zealand, what publications would carry such stories? Would there be practical or ethical barriers to commercial media organisations carrying privately-financed stories? Would they want to?

Exactly what stories would be written under such a trust that are not written now?

What copyright would be asserted in the material generated?

Who should reach into their pockets for this?

Who would run it?


Anyway, the show is there on TVNZ ondemand. And for offshore readers, it should be on our YouTube channel soon. Ditto on the Windows Media clips and the podcast.

We're quite proud of this programme, just quietly.

And the Media7 blog includes come more background and a list of the six remaining independent daily papers in New Zealand.

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