Farewell NZPA, hello three new services

By Andrew Stone

131 years of newspaper history is coming to an end today, with the disestablishment of the NZPA service. Photo / Thinkstock
131 years of newspaper history is coming to an end today, with the disestablishment of the NZPA service. Photo / Thinkstock

Four small letters attached to the end of many reports in New Zealand newspapers are disappearing.

The letters - NZPA, or the New Zealand Press Association - are going because the agency, after 131 years, is closing, swept away by fast-moving technology and squeezed by competition between two media empires.

Tonight, when its work is done, the last report from its Wellington office will be sent to papers that buy its services.

Tim Pankhurst, head of the New Zealand Newspaper Publishers' Association, which runs NZPA, said the story would include the names of staff losing their jobs and one final word - "ends".

Recent newspaper history might suggest the NZPA closure is yet another tombstone in the industry's graveyard.

But three new services are rising from the ashes of the agency, signalling a new era of competition for readers - and jobs for some redundant staff.

All are Australian-owned, but all have a significant presence in New Zealand.

Publishers APN News & Media - which owns the Herald - its main rival Fairfax New Zealand and the Australian news agency AAP are all making changes to fill the gap.

Before dawn tomorrow, stories generated by APN's new service, APNZ, will be sent to more than 50 New Zealand newspapers. Those titles will also contribute copy to APNZ for use by subscribing papers, just as NZPA did for more than a century.

Led by Auckland-based bureau chief Chris Reed, the agency will feed newspapers and websites within the APN group, as well as the Otago Daily Times, Greymouth Star, Ashburton Guardian, Westport News and Gisborne Herald. The customers pay for the service through subscriptions.

Seventeen staff work for the service, including some recruited from NZPA.

Reed, 39, moved from the Herald on Sunday to set up APNZ. His task is to generate exclusive content and cover breaking news for all the titles, which he says are seen by 2.3 million readers a week.

He is confident his team will find ways to gather stories from so-called "black holes" in its coverage area.

"If a big story breaks in a region where we're a bit light then we'd send in our own reporter."

Those staff would have mobile reporting kits to produce swift and comprehensive coverage.

The new Fairfax service is called Fairfax New Zealand News, or FNZN.

The publisher, which has more than 70 newspapers and 400 reporters in New Zealand, runs its copy-sharing model through existing newsrooms and additional sport, business and political bureaus.

It has hired a senior NZPA journalist as its "national content editor". His task will be to manage group coverage on the big stories of the day.

Fairfax executive editor Paul Thompson told his staff in a memo the company had New Zealand's "biggest newsroom" which created hundreds of pieces of unique content each day - "truly our new river of gold".

- AAP starts its service, NZ Newswire (NZN), on Monday. Editor-in-chief Tony Gillies said the company would have 10 journalists - including ex-NZPA staff - split between Auckland and Wellington.

It would also use freelancers and "stringers" - irregular correspondents who fill gaps as required.

He did not see NZN going head-to-head with its bigger rivals. Rather it would file finance and sports material to Australian customers, and dig out complementary New Zealand content.

At NZPA, as the clock winds down on decades of journalism, chief executive Pankhurst says the mood is more resignation than recrimination.

About two-thirds of its 42 staff had found jobs, and he admired the way all had stuck to their tasks as this evening's deadline approached.

Veteran staffer Max Lambert, in his final agency report, wrote that its demise left New Zealand as one of the few countries in the Western world without a domestic news agency.

"We'll all be poorer for the agency's passing," he said.

SHARING NEWS

* Founded in 1879-80 as the United Press Association. Became the New Zealand Press Association in 1942.
* It effectively drew the country together as newspaper readers had access, via the telegraph, to news from beyond their region.
* At its peak just after World War I, the agency had 74 subscribing papers bound in a co-operative to share their stories with other members. In the 70s and 80s, NZPA had reporters in Sydney, Asia, London and Washington DC.
* In 2006 the agency struck out alone when members stopped supplying reports after rival Australian media firms consolidated their hold on the NZ market and saw no benefit in co-operating.
* Its death knell was sounded in April when Fairfax decided to go it alone.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

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