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NetHui shines light on future prospects for news media

Media Release: 8 July: Nethui, InternetNZ

NetHui shines light on future prospects for news media

Future prospects for journalism and the news media in New Zealand are a strong theme at InternetNZ’s third annual three-day conference, NetHui 2013, which finishes in Wellington tomorrow (Wednesday 10 July).

At a forum held last night journalists Chris Barton, former NZ Herald senior feature writer, and Peter Griffin, Science Media Centre manager, opened discussion with two perspectives on what the future might hold for different forms of journalism.

The theme continues tomorrow with sessions on media convergence (with Russell Brown and Alastair Thompson) and building the news with open data (with Keitha Booth).

At last night’s forum Chris Barton talked about an “insidious decline” in support for long-form feature writing over recent years, to the point where even New Zealand’s major city paper has anti-thetically conceded that “having a full-time writer is probably a luxury”.

He observed that shorter “featurette” pieces that now take prevalence are more like long news stories - adding that these often don’t delve beyond being something about the news of the week, and have become more about the look than the substance of the story.

Barton closed his presentation by stating that “newspapers have given up this ground too casually … they have gotten away with it, perhaps because no one appears to be noticing”.

By contrast Peter Griffin provided the packed room at NetHui with a précis of alternative vehicles for quality journalism that have been on the rise for some time in the USA – including the Centre for Public Integrity, ProPublica and the Freedom of the Press Foundation – based on his research of public interest journalism as a Fulbright-Harkness New Zealand Fellow.

He pointed out that the future prospects for quality journalism are increasingly dependent on the pursuit of alternative vehicles for funding skilled journalists and engendering a culture of investigative journalism.

Griffin noted that an absence of large, specialist philanthropic organisations in New Zealand could be offset by clever use of crowd funding, micro-payments and subscription models, as successfully demonstrated in the USA.

Speaking as a member of the team striving to establish the Scoop Foundation for Public Interest Journalism in New Zealand, Griffin closed his presentation with a list of ideas for in-depth journalism projects and topics that could be put forward to be “kick started”, with an emphasis on data-based journalism that could then provide fodder for mainstream media.

Those ideas included: NZ’s sick rivers; Earthquake engineering and “killer buildings”; Failed finance companies; Keeping tabs on the lobbyists; Benchmarking local councils; Workplace safety issues.

The remainder of the forum focused on gathering further ideas about the future direction of news media and journalism from NetHui participants, summarised in brief here as a series of questions:

Is there a sufficient market in New Zealand for quality long-form journalism?
How much fallout in readership are paywalls going to cause?
Given the PR industry dominates newsfeeds why wouldn’t that industry, through PRINZ, agree it should contribute payments under a levy system to put into a fund for public interest journalism?
Digital technology is just an accelerator of change – how can that be used to enhance and revive basic things like civic engagement?
In Norway the government subsidises village newspapers – could government subsidies work in New Zealand?

Facilitator Alison McCulloch closed the forum with an encouragement for people to register their interest and provide more feedback via a placeholder website at where Q&A about the Scoop Foundation for Public Interest Journalism project will be published.


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