John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

John Drinnan: Maori TV payout and the year of the paywall

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Maori TV board approved Jim Mather's taxpayer-funded university sabbatical before it was apparent he was resigning

Sources say Carol Hirschfeld has Jim Mather's backing. Photo / Richard Robinson
Sources say Carol Hirschfeld has Jim Mather's backing. Photo / Richard Robinson

Maori Television will be paying its chief executive Jim Mather for a two month sabbatical that ends shortly before he takes up a new job.

Mather sets off next week to work at AUT University on a thesis on Maori Development to complete his doctorate.

He returns in August and then leaves in October for his new role as chief executive of the education body te Wananga o Aotearoa.

Mather is highly regarded in Maoridom and broadcasting, and is credited with bringing stability to Maori Television.

He will not be the first or last public sector leader to be sent on generous taxpayer-funded leave to further his education.

And it's a generous package in tightened financial times, considering MTS will not reap the benefits of his doctorate. The sabbatical was approved by the MTS board last year before it was apparent that he would be leaving.

MTS spokeswoman Diane Berghan said that the search for Mather's replacement had begun, but the chief executive job had not yet been advertised.

Two well-placed sources said that Mather is backing the candidacy of production general manager Carol Hirschfeld, who has confirmed she is applying.

Year of the paywall

Stuff.co.nz and nzherald.co.nz are both working on paywalls that limit access to free online content and the first direct moves are expected next year.

The Herald has obtained an internal Fairfax memo which shows the owner of stuff.co.nz is contemplating a big change in its digital offering including a "new content platform", which is believed to be a makeover to accommodate a paywall.

"Digital is in a holding mode awaiting its new content platform," the memo says.

Fairfax is however conducting a major survey of readers to see what they value, staff were told.

The moves follow advanced trends in Australia and Britain as print media revenue has come under intense pressure.

APN News & Media, owner of nzherald.co.nz, has talked about paywalls for the past year.

Across the Tasman Fairfax is already rolling out paywalls for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age.

And after being left out of a big upheaval last year - it seems New Zealand is back in the crosshairs.

Details about the business models for both companies' services, such as the amount of free access that might be available, are not being spelled out. But both are widely expected to include a cap on views so that some news browsing remains free.

Fairfax NZ acting general manager Andrew Boyle has told Marketing Magazine's Stop Press website that paywall modelling and research is taking place alongside Fairfax's latest restructuring.

Business heads are in the midst of planning the restructure and putting it into effect, he said.

"Changes will be visible over the next two months, and it would be well under way by September."

Who blinks first

APN New Zealand chief marketing officer Kursten Shalfoon said investigations into a paywall were advanced and predicted 2014 would be "the year of the paywall".

APN was working on different scenarios in which competing websites went behind paywalls, and others where competitors did not.

News organisations have looked at paywalls for years, but it entails a risk and comes down to who blinks first and makes the change.

Paywalls where people have to pay for access might reduce the reliance on advertising, and by adding subscription fees could extend the life of print editions.

But it could mean an exodus of readers and advertisers if one company put its website behind a paywall while a competitor did not.

State-owned news website tvnz.co.nz says it has no plans to erect a paywall.

Restructuring

The Fairfax memo spells out the rationale behind the latest round of restructuring and redundancies, of which there are not yet any details.

After five years of declining revenue across the company every division and every department will be looked at, staff were told.

The status quo is seen as unsustainable and the spotlight is now on the 800 editorial staff. Marlborough and Nelson were first in the restructuring process, followed by Southland. The review would be conducted over the next four months.

The timeframe for the review is short, with both jobs and processes being looked at.

Part of the review will involve evaluating what content Fairfax's operations can share. Fairfax management has noted that it has 20 contributing food writers across the group.

So readers might have to make do with one standard view about how to make corn fritters.

Meanwhile, ideas include bringing in new shared copy streams for categories such as beauty and technology.

Party time

Everybody knows about politicians waka jumping from party to party. But what about media waka jumpers who leave journalism for a job as an MP.

Successful journalists - especially on TV - have a ready-made public profile and in theory should be good communicators.

There have been two recent examples where media people have moved to politics.

Sometime Q & A interviewer Shane Taurima, general manager of TVNZ's Maori and Pacific unit, confirmed he is seeking Labour's candidacy for the Ikaroa-Rawhiti electorate after the death of Parekura Horomia.

Taurima has all the tribal affiliations to win the nomination.

He has not been a member of the Labour Party, but a source familiar with Maori East Coast politics said he is widely perceived as a ring-in from Labour headquarters, so he is likely to win.

In my opinion his decision to stand for Labour inevitably leads to reflections on past interviews for Q&A when he took a sometimes overly dogged approach interviewing Government ministers.

More waka jumpers

TV producer Claudette Hauiti was recently named as the replacement for Aaron Gilmore on the National Party list.

Back in 1996 former TV3 reporter Tukoroirangi Morgan entered Parliament.

Former TVNZ reporter Kris Faafoi became Labour MP for Mana in 2010, after a spell as press secretary to Labour leader Phil Goff.

In 2011 National picked up Maggie Barry from a career in radio, handing her the safe seat of North Shore.

Magazine journalist Deborah Coddington became an MP in 2002 when she was on the Act Party list.

In the 1990s journalist Pam Corkery spent time as an MP for Alliance, working alongside Willie Jackson.

Brendan Burns was a former editor of the Marlborough Express who ran the Labour Party parliamentary publicity unit and went into Parliament in 2008.

Going way back was Sir Leslie Munro, an editor of the Herald from 1942 to 1951. He was a National MP from 1963 to 1972.

Melissa Lee was a National list MP who was previously a journalist before forming television magazine show Asia Downunder.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

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.

Read more by John Drinnan

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