John Drinnan 's Opinion

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan: Fairfax axes photographers

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The New Zealand Defence Force seem to approach every query as if they are going to war with the media, says a Herald investigative reporter.
The New Zealand Defence Force seem to approach every query as if they are going to war with the media, says a Herald investigative reporter.

Fairfax Media New Zealand plans to lay off nearly a quarter of its photographers, but insists its proposals aim to improve the craft while making it more affordable.

Photographers were told this week that 15 of the 65 photographic jobs were to be axed - a major loss affecting the regions as well as main centres.

For instance the Dominion Post is expected to go from seven photographic staff to four, according to a Fairfax insider. Three photographic staff are expected to go from Fairfax's Auckland newsroom, said another source.

As well as Wellington's Dominion Post, the Fairfax stable includes, among other titles, the Sunday Star-Times, the Sunday News, Waikato Times, Manawatu Standard, The Press and the Southland Times.

It is not clear how all of these papers will be affected.

Fairfax New Zealand executive editor Paul Thompson said staff were being asked for their input and at this stage the cutbacks were "only a proposal".

However, Fairfax staff approached by the Herald regarded the cuts as a fait accompli and part of a relentless restructuring across media companies that was most pronounced at Fairfax.

In the United States, the Chicago Sun newspaper laid off all its photographers and now has reporters using smartphones to take pictures at news events.

Thompson said that smartphone press photography was not planned in this country.

"We see visual journalism as a core part of what we do but we are not going down the path taken by that US newspaper."

Thompson said the proposal being considered by staff aimed to "make the craft stronger".

Publishers are under intense pressure with falls in advertising revenue.

"Obviously making it more affordable is important considering the challenge facing the publishing industry, but we are looking at how we can go better - particularly around video. There is so much demand for good video material," Thompson said.

There have been rumours of Fairfax outsourcing photographs but Thompson said the company was not promoting the idea of photographic staff forming their own companies to service the firm.

On May 3, the Herald revealed Fairfax Media - here and in Australia - had signed a deal with a Little Rock, Arkansas-based company, Rogers Photo Archive.

That deal allows Rogers to keep and sell up to 10 per cent of the originals of Fairfax's photographs, including those that are historically valuable.

The Chicago Sun adopted a similar deal with Rogers Photo Archive.

Thompson leaves Fairfax soon to take over as chief executive of Radio New Zealand, effective in September.

DIFFERENT MODELS

There are no plans for APN News & Media to follow Fairfax's example. Chief executive Michael Miller was in Auckland yesterday and I asked him about the Fairfax proposal.

He pointed out that media groups often have different approaches to pictures.

"You go to the UK and most newspapers have hardly any photographers. It's all bought in [from agencies] and the market is flooded with them," Miller said.

"With the access to photography and wire services the model has changed greatly. That is just unfortunately a sign of the times - that the market has changed and the media is changing to adapt."

WHITE MISCHIEF

There was a tiny flurry of activity on Twitter this week when TV One Seven Sharp producer Mauricio Olmedo Perez was found in breach of TVNZ social media rules for a tweet about the birth of the royal baby.

"And another rich spoilt privileged white kid is born. Phew thought we were running out of them there for a second," said the producer.

He wasn't alone - other tweeters were cynical about all the hype, and said as much. But the TVNZ tweet did not reflect well.

Head of news and current affairs John Gillespie said in a statement: "The tweet was in breach of our social media policy on a number of counts, and we've dealt with it appropriately."

One or two folk were taken aback, believing TVNZ rules should not be enacted over a trifling aside.

But you imagine the reaction if someone made a joke alluding to brown or Asian people - there'd be hell to pay.

SUING THE STATE

Jon Stephenson's defamation suit against NZDF was a rare example of a New Zealand journalist taking a libel action in defence of their journalism and reputation.

During the hearing the New Zealand Defence Force acknowledged that accusations it made in a press statement about Stephenson - that he had not visited a site in Afghanistan - were incorrect.

It accepted he had done so.

The defamation suit was not successful, but it has highlighted how government departments can act to undermine media and in this case levelled an allegation against a journalist.

Prime Minister John Key has accused a journalist of "making things up" and eyebrows were raised over a Parliamentary Services investigation tracking the movements of Andrea Vance, who broke a story about a report into the GCSB.

Shouldn't journalists be able to use the courts to clear their name, like Stephenson did?

The tradition has always been that journalists in New Zealand do not sue for defamation.

It can be ascribed to the view that someone attached to media organisations has an extraordinary ability to rebuff or refute defamatory statements.

I asked former Herald editor Gavin Ellis if the principle was different when someone like Stephenson who is a freelancer and not on staff for a media organisation.

Surprisingly he did not think different rules applied to freelancers.

"Jon's case was borne out of pure frustration to get the redress from the NZDF," Ellis said.

Stephenson could not be reached for comment.

HOW BIZARRE

Herald investigative reporter David Fisher said: "The NZDF is a bizarre organisation to deal with - they seem to approach every query as if they are going to war with the media.

"In Jon's case, they sought to marginalise the issue [about his treatment] he raised by delaying, diverting and denying. It is not an uncommon mode of behaviour by NZDF."

The NZDF said it was an ongoing legal matter and it would not be appropriate to comment.

GLOBAL MUSIC

New Zealand digital music company DRM has unveiled new international supply outlets for Kiwi musicians, including Amazon and Google Play.

DRM is an aggregator which collects music for digital distribution ensuring distributors do not need to deal directly with individual musicians or independent labels as well as delivering and managing content.

The deal increases the footprint for New Zealand internationally, said Peter Baker, general manager of the NZ-owned and operated company.

Baker said in a statement there had been a major change in the recorded music industry, with digital downloads in 2013 overtaking physical sales.

At the same time, the market penetration of local music had dropped dramatically as telcos switched their focus away from music, and iTunes began to dominate the market.

However, with streaming services Spotify and Deezer now in New Zealand and with the impending launches of iTunes Radio and The Radio Network's iHeart Radio, the basis for people making money from their music was changing, he said.

DRM will supply content to international retailers, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, eMusic, 7 Digital, MOG, Rhapsody, Musicload, Qobuzz, (classical only), Juno, (dance only), Beatport (dance only), Trackitdown (dance only), Traxsource (dance only), Satellite (dance only).

This adds to the already existing retailers DRM supplies - iTunes, Spotify, Deezer, Rdio, Flybuys Music, Vodafone NZ, Amplifier.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. A business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

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