Is it time give up on advertising as the funder for NZ news services?

AT Alastair Thompson Public Seen by 125

Taken from Five Starting Points For A Public Conversation On The Future of News In NZ

Is it time for us to should abandon the idea that in the long run marketers and advertisers -which historically has paid for the bulk of news production - will be able to continue to do the pay for it in the future - especially in a small market like New Zealand?

Advertisers and marketers have been the funders over the past 200 years. But the changes brought about by the internet arguably bring this period to an end.

In my experience advertisers do not really like being associated with news, at least not of the challenging journalistic kind. Most marketers trying to sell something then would much prefer to approach potential customers with an offer for a product when people are in a happy place - reading about a nice holiday, a sports hero or a theory about how to get thinner faster. In the past advertisers were attracted to the real news audiences because they tend to be rich and influential. But now that the internet has given marketers other means and places to reach these audiences more cost effectively - so much so that a commercial relationship with NZ news media is increasingly less important.

Marketers will tell you that contentious political discussions about welfare, investigations into business crime and accounts of the imminent destruction of the economy/environment/our freedoms are not a particularly conducive sales vector for say, home loans or women's fashion. Though they might be ok for Insurance. And in general, marketers are right about this, Bottom line they no longer need news to sell things and they do not believe they have any responsibility to pay for the news media.

  • Alastair Thompson, Scoop Editor & Publisher

Dialey Sat 24 Jan 2015 1:56AM

It's well past time. As someone who long ago gave up listening and watching commercial news sources, I've been appalled by the increasing departure from unfettered journalistic analysis of news items - the worst being the coverage of the 2014 election. There is something crass about the seriousness of world and local news events being interspersed among advertisements. The loss of public service broadcasting is a tragedy and a chronic disservice to the people of NZ. Even if our small population cannot afford to have at least one ad-free channel, then at least the news hour should be just that, an hour of news with no commercial breaks


Peter Thompson Thu 29 Jan 2015 3:18AM

Well the influence of the need to maximise ratings/readership/clicks on editorial decisions is well documented. But to 'give up' on advertising without having some form of alternative would be tantamount to economic suicide for most media outlets. Newspapers are currently struggling but in 2014 they nevertheless accounted for $494m of advertising spend- about 22% of the total of $22274m. Although the advertising market did take a hit during the financial crisis, dropping roughly $200m from 2007-8 figures in 2009, it has now returned to pre-crisis levels, but arguably it is now spread across a wider number of platforms, so what we see is a year-on-year increase in online/interactive media and a decline in ad revenue for traditional media platforms.
(See ASA data here: http://www.asa.co.nz/stats.php)
But abandoning advertising in the short term isn't an option, and for all the faults of commercial news media they nevertheless provide a key source of news for the majority of the population. What IS needed is a way to insulate editorial decisions from transient commercial pressures. One system that did achieve this in the UK was the ITN model, where up to 1990, all the commercial TV stations were obliged to subscribe to the service and screen it at specific times. I'm not saying this is directly workable here, but a cooperative model with editorial decisions taken at arms-length from the schedulers has precedents. It was therefore interesting to see the move to place Prime News under Mediaworks, but then the dissolution of NZPA is a significant shift in the opposite direction.
The solution I would look to long term is some kind of state funded multi-platform news provider, perhaps based around Radio NZ, with provisions to fund independent news and documentary production by independent news operators and investigative reporters.


Alastair Thompson Thu 29 Jan 2015 3:36AM


I am not suggesting that the news industry abandon advertising though I can see why the post question could be read that way - I was trying to make it shorter. The full version of the question reads.

Is it time for us to should abandon the idea that in the long run marketers and advertisers -which historically has paid for the bulk of news production - will be able to continue to do the pay for it in the future - especially in a small market like New Zealand?

Advertising is in the process of abandoning news as far as I can tell. And news's attempts to continue to fund itself from that source are ultimately doomed to fail because the basic structure of media use, and consequently the role of news in delivering eyeballs to advertisers in the "business of advertising" has fundamentally changed. I addressed this in my opening essay under this heading: So why are the NZ News Media unable to do their job anymore?

Historically the front page of the newspaper with its "Scoop" headline sold the paper, which in turn brought readers to the advertising inside. And it was the same for TV News Networks who fought to line up their primetime audiences at 6pm. Historically the economic value of the big story was huge.

But on the internet there is no front page. The major publishers have clung to the notion of readers coming in the front door and browsing their publication - but in reality only a fraction of online news consumers do it that way any more. People are far more likely to dip in and out of publications via search, email alerts, links or social media shares.

Now for most newspapers and magazines the focus has changed. While the goal remains retail counter sales - these days for everybody except the 6pm news the target markets for news media are niche. And so we have publication decisions driven by research - the print equivalent of click bait. Which produces, as this analysis of Listener covers by Giovanni Tiso shows, something less than news judgement for news sake.

As a result of this, news is no longer news. Certainly not as we knew it. Whereas previously news was news, and (theoretically at least) was composed of important facts, delivered straight, without emotion and without judgment. These days that would seem boring. Most news is a now a form of infotainment. Competing with pictures of the grandkids for the attention of the reader.

If news keeps chasing advertising then what we are currently seeing on the major publishers online news sites will migrate more and more to top of our news bulletins and news as we know it will have disappeared.

The ITN solution that you describe sounds essentially like mandatory broadcasting of public service news announcements - i.e. a regulatory fix. This could work but is very coercive and I think would meet an enormous amount of resistence from the broadcasters these days who - unlike in the early days of TV - now serve very specific niche audiences.

And as you say this would not work with online text news or newspaper news.

I agree that the solution you suggest - i.e. adding text news to RNZ's public broadcasting mandate and effectively reinstating NZPA .

Such a solution which produced text news ( IMO ideally under a creative commons licence and therefore available for syndication to maximise reach) seems to me to be the most practical way to address the problem the news industry in NZ faces right now.


Peter Thompson Thu 29 Jan 2015 3:53AM

Thanks for the reply- I was taking the question a bit literally, but I also wanted to signal that I still see commercial news media and ad revenue as an important part of the media ecology. I'm not sure your perception that ad reveneue is abandoning news is necessarily correct although it's true in the case of newspapers- we'd need the news media to front up with some commercially sensitive statistics to assess that. For television, the 6pm news is a critical capture point for the prime time audience and despite all the time shifting, I'd be very surprised if that were not still true. When the TVNZ Charter was still in place I asked Ian Fraser about news formats which to my mind were still rather tabloid- his reply was instructive: “At the end of the day, the 6 pm bulletin is a mighty engine- commercially-for the channel, and we’re not going to gamble imprudently with that.”
I do agree though that advertising on traditional platforms is being slowly eaten away by online/new media, which fragments the overall spread of revenue and makes it harder to bulk-fund a high quality full-spectrum news service. But as Scoop has found, it's also hard to sustain small scale news platforms too. I didn't think the ITN model was a solution here but it demonstrates a method of insulating news production from commercial pressure within an otherwise commercial system. So I wouldn't give up on the possibility of some kind of hybrid model where advertising plays some kind of role, but I think we agree a healthy news media ecology needs some kind of public service platform at its centre.


David West Thu 29 Jan 2015 7:59PM

I've been scanning all these contributions, but not always reading them in depth. But it seems to me that the same question applies to all sources of funding for News: How much influence does the funder have over the content? Doesn't matter if it's public, private, commercial (advertising), sponsorship, philanthropy ... the issue is how do these funders influence the news? The answer has to be "zero" in all cases where the intent is to inform/educate the public in the interests of keeping all of our institutions/leaders accountable and promoting "active citizenship". If someone's funding their own "news" content, or trying to influence the content, then it's PR or marketing, and the funding should be declared, as in "Travel" stories where there is (sometimes) a tag that says "our reporter travelled courtesy of AirNZ".


Jason Brown Thu 5 Feb 2015 6:25AM

Peter Thompson is right in suggesting that there is still a role for commercial broadcast media - if it adapts to changing times, needs - and opportunities.

#suggestionbox - how about this?

Commercial broadcast media get the advertising dollars to support their infrastructure and return on investments. Newsrooms get the publicly-funded, click-based levy, tax, grant or whatever you want to call it.

Quid pro quo for public support is a full-spectrum media accountability system that runs the gamut through codes of ethics and conduct, social networks, for example, reader panels; media ombudsmen (a gender neutral term I am advised by a former (female) Ombudsman; through to complaints councils and, of course, the courts.

This firewall between 'church' and 'state' allows corporate / commercial media to keep doing what they do best, sell advertising, while newsrooms do what they do best, report news, each to their own task masters.


Date: Thu, 29 Jan 2015 03:53:12 +0000


Jason Brown Thu 5 Feb 2015 6:35AM

David West raises an important point - influence of funders.

This is something that is always going to be thrown in the face of public funding supporters - that there is a "slippery slope" to government control. This complaint more often than not chooses to ignore an equally valid fact that corporate / commercial media suffer the same potential from private sources.

#suggestionbox - that any future funding models for news media has to implicitly recognise the importance of covering news media as a serious topic in and of itself. That if we really are the 4th estate, then we as journalists, editors, management and funders must all expect as much scrutiny as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd if we were MPs, government officials, judges or police.

That is, we have to be ready to police our own biases, including referring disputed cases to media accountability systems of our own accord, not just waiting for public complaints.

I know, I know, we loath talking about ourselves, it's a bit icky, and we're scared to death of criticism such as "you guys are just writing about yourselves" and "where's the real news?".

But we often dismiss other criticisms as either uninformed or unappreciative of news realities, so we should get used to cleaning up our own backyard as well.

Date: Thu, 29 Jan 2015 19:59:25 +0000


Jason Brown Thu 5 Feb 2015 7:12AM

#suggestionbox - "The solution I would look to long term is some kind of state funded multi-platform news provider, perhaps based around Radio NZ, with provisions to fund independent news and documentary production by independent news operators and investigative reporters."

Peter Thompson hints at the direction we need to go in terms of output. In terms of input, is it time that the news media got a divorce from NZonAir and got their own dedicated funding body? One with a legislative requirement to fund a diversity of voices? NewZonAir perhaps?

Going back to Peter's solution: I really like the column in the NZH that compellingly reviews not just the news headlines of the day, but also the reaction from various spheres - blog, Twitter, and otherwise. Some "kind of state-funded multi-platform news provider, perhaps based around Radio NZ" could also perform such a function, on a wider scale, ensuring voices from civil society and others are also heard.

Widening out this solution, is an answer for achieving public funding models to promote news media as a form of adult education, civil literacy, political participation, all kind of rolled up into one? Where news media are not just an independent observer, but also an active conveyance of views to Parliament and other statutory bodies?

So that the news media watchdog role has not just bark but also some bite?

Date: Thu, 29 Jan 2015 03:18:23 +0000


pilotfever Thu 5 Feb 2015 2:19PM

As services change, advertising must change.
That is why we are pioneering gaze tracking and emotional facial analytics based advertising in AR/VR and internet TV.

More from me? Check out https://www.loomio.org/d/17mi4fpK#comment-487534
Twitter @AbbottMaverick
RealWorld - "Reality Virtualised for the Real You" Limited


David West Thu 5 Feb 2015 9:39PM

Jason Brown says "Widening out this solution, is an answer for achieving public funding models to promote news media as a form of adult education, civil literacy, political participation, all kind of rolled up into one? Where news media are not just an independent observer, but also an active conveyance of views to Parliament and other statutory bodies?"
I agree with this. Promoting citizenship is, for me, a core role of the news media. How can we have a functioning democracy if people aren't fully informed and don't have the tools to make good decisions? Other contributors have made similar points, and also touched on the role of news media in communities. I have thought for a long time that the news media could/should play an active role in promoting "community conversations", not only about issues of the day, but about our past, present and future. This could be done via the news/feature pages, radio programmes, tv docos and discussions etc, canvassing all points of view, letting people speak for themselves, and allowing others to respond, without journalists challenging the views put forward, except to seek clarification. News media could also go as far as organising public debates, forums, workshops, seminars etc, and reporting not only any consensus/conclusions that might be reached, but the arguments for and against and in the middle, so that readers/listeners/viewers can make up their own minds, not be steered in a particular direction by a news organisation with its own views, or a journalist striving for "balance". None of us is truly objective, and often we're not aware of our own biases. "Mythbusting" would be an important role here: all communities tell themselves stories about who they are, and often those stories aren't accurate.


Jason Brown Thu 5 Feb 2015 11:38PM

thanks david - nice to be quoted!

"“Mythbusting” would be an important role here: all communities tell themselves stories about who they are, and often those stories aren’t accurate."

#suggestionbox - adding to concepts David outlines here, we could get readers to add to timelines, sources/links, q+a explainers, using hashtags or similar, as standard features for all stories, not just those journalists have time for. That is, such contributions would be highlighted in boxes, rather than buried in comments.

News media could also borrow and adapt the Buzzfeed reader review system but instead of "omg" "lol" and "fail" They could also review by voting on story importance and accuracy e.g. "useful" or "vital" or "urgent", and "one sided" or "incomplete" or "inaccurate" etc.

Date: Thu, 5 Feb 2015 21:39:19 +0000


pilotfever Fri 6 Feb 2015 5:47AM

News is a conversation... like this... a oonversation I had with Managing Director of NEC that became one sided... after the founding of FOVE
https://twitter.com/AbbottMaverick/status/563564634712440834 ( https://twitter.com/AbbottMaverick/status/563564634712440834 )

Where is it all headed? Better ask me! @AbbottMaverick (also some screenshots dating back to SPTN pitch in 2007 on my Twitter)


Greg Brier Sun 8 Feb 2015 3:52PM

A quick look at the most effective news sources left would suggest that the state funded sources (in particular as opposed to corporate) are the more effective . We have other bodies (such as the judicial system) that state funded but independent. This model can surely be modified to use on a state funded media .
Democracy has unfortunately become corporatocracy, its not just the pursuit of profits , but the pursuit of power that drives the Murdocks of this world . Therein lies the danger . If the media wants to represent itself as the truth seeker , then how can it be in bed with such organisations.


pilotfever Sun 8 Feb 2015 4:14PM

Of course this is a no brainer. But public broadcasting has been robbed blind, probably lobbied out of existance by the Murdochs et al.


Greg Brier Sun 8 Feb 2015 4:40PM

Agree James...thus the need to thwart that power


pilotfever Sun 8 Feb 2015 5:50PM

Well a unconditional basic income would be a good start. State funding of bloggers and independent media can be indirect and solve other issues like the replacement of many jobs that is accelerating leaving many folks unemployed, and increased longevity pressuring our superannuation. It has worked well in trials elsewhere I don't see why we should tackle this issue at the same time.
Barriers to broadcasting with streaming services, go pros or even smartphones are low and getting lower. I'm not sure that direct funding of state broadcasting is even relevant except in the absence of impartial/independent alternatives. Independent views are legion anyway, that is why their should be many of them. Trending on Twitter one such example. I love Twitter

@AbbottMaverick #realworld #publishing

----- Reply message -----


Alastair Thompson Thu 12 Feb 2015 3:29AM

In terms of the power and independence of state media. When its not so independent - i.e. like Mike Hosking on Seven Sharp - it can be particularly dangerous and insidious as it gives the impression that the Government is both the actor and the critic. I.E. like Pravda or the Chinese Communist Party media.