What role should public funding play in the future of NZ news?

AT Alastair Thompson Public Seen by 152

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

What role should public broadcasting - and publicly funded news services - play in the future of news service provision?

In NZ at present Public broadcasting is increasingly picking up the pieces of a broken news puzzle. The importance of Radio New Zealand in particular as a source of professionally produced high quality public interest news has grown significantly over the past six years - a period during which its budget has been frozen and it has had to resort to selling assets like its grand piano to fund important projects.

NZ on Air also funds public news services on Television principally, but recently also broke its self-imposed ban on funding online news content by contributed some money towards Radio New Zealand's TheWireless.co.nz.

While public funding of news services will doubtless be an important part of the solution to the problems faced by the news media. It is not a panacea. In truth public broadcasters are not truly free - they are an arm of Government and are therefore limited in what doors they can open and what sort of stories they can pursue. Also single, large news edifices are not what news needs. Rather it needs competing bold, free and challenging voices. One can easily imagine a situation in which, as the rest of the media becomes increasingly incapacitated, taxpayer funded news services will become increasingly vulnerable to government interference. Already in NZ and Australia the National Party and the Liberal Party have targeted public broadcasters for cost cutting, presumably because of a perception of liberal bias.

  • Alastair Thompson, Scoop Editor & Publisher

Alastair Thompson Mon 26 Jan 2015 9:54AM


David, Bill and Jason what you are discussing there is right on the money.

Akina is a foundation dedicated to assisting Social Enterprises to organise themselves. Scoop is engaging with them already and it is possibile they will assist us with some the legal side of the Operation Chrysalis project which intends to reboot Scoop this year as not-for-profit social enterprise very much of the kind you describe - i.e. which reinvests profits rather than paying them to shareholders - and which is accountable to the community it serves.

I strongly agree that a new breed of independent - and ideally self funding - organisations with proper firewalls and safeguards will be needed to do news properly in the future and finding business models to support them is the initial challenge.

That said, I also think that conflicts around state funding can be managed in a mature society (as they are with TVNZ, RNZ and NZ on Air already) and that Government action of some kind and funding will most probably be part of the solution to the issues the news industry faces. However I very much doubt that in this political climate anything concrete will happen anytime soon. And in the meantime we will need to do things for ourselves.

Scoop's intention to become a Social Enterprise has been flagged to stakeholders for some nine months and was publicly announced on December 19th with the launch of Operation Chrysalis.

Since then the plan to pursue that transformation has gained traction and there will be some more developments on that front in coming weeks. I

Scoop hopes that with community support and with the help of our friends at Enspiral (who are behind the Loomio project which created this forum software) we will become part of the solution.

There is another "concrete" project already underway. Its called "Public Eyes" - find out more at www.pij.org.nz/ It invovles the creation of a public interest charitable foundation which will seek philanthropic grants and organise crowd-funding for independent journalism projects supervised by a professional arms length editorial panel. It is completely separate from Scoop though we were closely involved in getting it going and intend to support it as much as we can once it is operational.


Pete Mon 26 Jan 2015 10:08AM

Public funding feels like a bit of a red herring... 'commercial' journalism has a future if its product is of high enough quality... that is, if traditional media focused on the quality of its output (responding to criticism with openness; investing in on-going professional development of journalists; fact checking; admitting errors; removing journalists when proved to have poor craft practices; setting expectations around ethical behaviour; investing in the time and space for journalists to develop contacts / undertake research / gather multiple 'voices' etc etc etc.) commercial media would have a product unassailable by so-called 'citizen' journalism. In short, an industry that supports better quality reportage doesn't just give the consumer better news or society better checks and balances - it also saves itself.


Alastair Thompson Tue 27 Jan 2015 8:00AM

Hi Pete, welcome to the discussion. I am not sure that I agree with this. The view that if the content is good enough it will earn money is one which is not born out with experience. This issue was discussed in detail in the piece that launched this discussion.

There is a separate thread in this forum which specifically targets the issue of whether advertising as a revenue model has in large part severed itself from news - and this is the underlying cause of the decline in standards which is now compounding the problem.

As for citizen journalism its not that it is competing with mass media journalism or displacing it. However it is increasingly showing it up - and that will probably continue to happen and perhaps is something that is even desirable.


Pete Tue 27 Jan 2015 8:32AM

Hi Alastair, yeep, I have read that and wasn't sure I agreed with parts of it. I guess the point I was trying to make was that 'quality' reportage might be a successful niche in itself in a market flooded with unreliable voices (you have probably guessed that I do not hold much stock in any old bod smacking up some thoughts in cyber space and expecting this to be called journalism - I think there is more to it than that). Specialist commentators and publications have sustained themselves in a small market like New Zealand for a long time by providing consumers what they want. I believe 'quality' could be just the same, as a point of difference. No disrespect intended, but Scoop doesn't (in my opinion) do dispassionate analysis of issues... you are a clearing house for others views, and you analyse news from a distinct perspective. Your niche isn't based around journalistic endeavour in a traditional sense - the ideals discussed elsewhere in this public conversation (perhaps you believe it is - which would be interesting to hear). Consequently, you aren't selling what I think the "mainstream" news consumer is willing to pay for... but neither are the traditional print and radio media these days...alas. I think people will pay for good and reliable journalism when they can't get it from anywhere else. Perhaps I'm just a dreamer.


Alastair Thompson Wed 28 Jan 2015 10:25PM

"Specialist commentators and publications have sustained themselves in a small market like New Zealand for a long time by providing consumers what they want. I believe ‘quality’ could be just the same, as a point of difference. "

No disrespect taken we know what Scoop provides - and as you say we are a clearing house for news information. It has always been our ambition to use that as a foundation and to build quality news on top of that (which we have some of e.g. Gordon Campbell - Werewolf - Pacific Scoop etc. ) However as I say in my article the primary problem is money.

"you aren’t selling what I think the “mainstream” news consumer is willing to pay for… but neither are the traditional print and radio media these days…alas. I think people will pay for good and reliable journalism when they can’t get it from anywhere else. Perhaps I’m just a dreamer."

Everybody says that - especially people in the media business - but as far as I can see there is no evidence that it is true. Especially at a publisher level. I think that people are far more likely to be prepared to fund individual quality reporters that they respect.

But the bigger problem we face in NZ is that any broad based paying audience is unlikely to scale sufficiently to pay for anything much - and certainly not a large quality news team.

For scale reasons the fees would need to be an order of magnitude higher than what people are used to paying for via overseas paywalled sites like The Economist, The Australian, Wall St Journal etc. And that's a big ask. Especially when most of the overseas paywalls tend to be permeable.

As a publisher charging for your news and then seeing your audience collapse is an experience that is alarming and as a result paywalls tend to be introduced slowly.

At present there is no evidence that NZ news consumers are willing to pay for any news online quality or otherwise. They pay to get behind NBR's paywall I think mainly because its a sort of elite business club - not because it contains vitally important business reporting that is not available elsewhere.

With regards to Scoop interestingly people are prepared to pay for press releases if they get them fast in an easilty forwardable and actionable format. That is what our Newsagent product supplies The results of the reader survey we are doing show very clearly that professional users value our press release content above all else, while personal users tend to value our independent, alternative, open and inclusive editorial .


Ian Apperley Wed 28 Jan 2015 10:35PM

Why can't we crowd source funding for independent news?

For example http://www.uncoverage.com/

Now, that is for journalists in isolation of a media organisation, but you could establish it for entire news sites.


Deleted User Wed 28 Jan 2015 10:48PM

I agree with Alastiar, people seem (and I am one) to be willing to pay for a trusted journalist to do her/his job but are a little unsure about paying for a whole new "media organisation".

Interesting about the crowd sourvin of funds, something Id love to hear Julie Starr's view on (is Julie in here?)

Cheers, Mike Riversdale

tel: +64 (0)21-169 1359
email: [email protected] ( [email protected] ) / calendar: http://goo.gl/Qx1C2K ( http://goo.gl/Qx1C2K )
Google+: Mike Riversdale ( http://goo.gl/Qf63n ) / Twitter: @MiramarMike ( http://goo.gl/Xua3W1 ) / LinkedIn: MikeRiversdale ( http://goo.gl/lLvQCx )

HackMiramar: Community Engagement, I'm going - are you?: http://goo.gl/Ug9rBF ( http://goo.gl/Ug9rBF )


Andrew Nichols Thu 29 Jan 2015 11:22AM

Media lens as always has a very intelligent contribution to this debate.


A Sun 1 Feb 2015 12:49AM

Tv1 and tv3 news are lacking... the majoruty of the material they show seems to be entertainment aimed at the masses. Despite the increasing influence of the internet as a source for news and media people do still sit down to watch the news be it at work, at home or with friends and family... we need more balanced, objective and imgestigative material. The state should be funding the news so that it can operate independandtly.

Load More