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Trust Ownership and the Future of News

Trust Ownership and the Future of News

A new book by University of Auckland Honorary Academic Dr Gavin Ellis debates how the public would be better served by media if some news organisations were run as trusts instead of being owned by large corporations expected to make a profit.

In his book, Trust Ownership and the Future of News: Media Moguls and White Knights, Dr Ellis, a former Editor–in-Chief of the New Zealand Herald, claims a trust structure can sustain the forms of journalism necessary in a free, functioning democracy and engender public confidence in the news media.

This ground-breaking study examines the past and present use of trustee governance by newspapers, public service broadcasters and news agencies in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, Canada, South Africa, India, Australia and New Zealand. Its case studies of the Guardian, Irish Timesand Tampa Bay Times – plus examination of the family trusts behind the Daily Mail, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post – detail the principles, practices and lessons of trustee ownership that can be applied by the digital 'new media' generation entrusted with the future of news.

He believes if new media in particular were put into a trust model of ownership, then they could focus on more serious forms of news such as government policy and investigative journalism.

Dr Ellis says mainstream New Zealand media is currently focused on profit and operated by large corporations. It may be competitive, but is it serving the public well when the emphasis is often on celebrity news, gossip and death?

A recent example is the tragic suicide of actor Robin Williams that lead both 3News and One News and filled many column centimetres of the Herald the following morning.

“It’s a tragic event, no one’s denying that, but that amount of coverage cannot be justified,” he says.

“I used to say when I was an editor ‘never underestimate the power of death’, but it has to be kept in some sort of balance. It is capturing the media more and more.

“It’s taking us to an increasingly cathartic time when we’re going to have to decide what’s important to society, do we need to have the mediated forms of communication that journalism provides?”

Dr Ellis says that contrary to popular belief, competition is not always the answer to improving the quality. Instead of media competing to break different stories: “It seems to be the pack all following the same bone.”

He also investigates how, while a lot has been written about the decline of journalism itself, little attention is paid to making constructive attempts to find alternative structures journalists can work in to improve the quality and range of reported news.

Dr Ellis returns to the University of Auckland in 2015 to teach a Summer School course on Propaganda.


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