John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Herald eyes smaller format

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A smaller New Zealand Herald might be coming to a news stand near you. Photo / NZ Herald
A smaller New Zealand Herald might be coming to a news stand near you. Photo / NZ Herald

APN News & Media is looking at turning the New Zealand Herald into a smaller "compact" format, as part of a move to meet the changing media market.

The move is part of a proposed wider review of Herald titles including the website nzherald.co.nz.

It follows a 7 per cent fall in all newspaper industry revenue last year and a big shift in media habits and marketing trends affecting the sector around the world.

APN chief executive Martin Simons and chief operating officer Todd McLeay stressed the change to a compact format - half the size of the current Herald - was not decided.

Simons said there would be tighter alignment with the website and tablet and mobile applications. There would be a focus on planning how stories play out across multiple mediums and choosing the optimal platform for customers.

Editor Shayne Currie is already working on a proposed redesign of the paper.

The Weekend Herald is not part of the investigation.

It is understood that Fairfax Media is looking at similar initiatives for the Sunday Star-Times and the Dominion Post.

The investigation, announced in updates to staff yesterday, was greeted with surprise.

One Herald sports journalist offered strong approval. But another senior journalist at the paper questioned whether the shift to a smaller format would diminish the Herald's credibility.

It is understood that the company is aware of the risk, and is looking at an approach that is akin to Britain's compact Times newspaper, rather than a tabloid title like the Sun or the Australian Daily Telegraph.

Former Herald editor-in-chief Gavin Ellis said newspapers had to move with the times.

But it was important that the content for a new format was right.

There was no difference in the size of a compact and a tabloid paper and a compact was more about a state of mind, he said.

Ellis had looked at changing in the past when he was at the Herald, but there were issues on losing revenue per page.

"It's not insurmountable and papers have made conversion quite successfully elsewhere, such as the Independent and the Times.

"It is a plus in terms of being much easier to handle - women in particular find them easier to handle.

"The question is whether there will be as much content in the paper and whether the tone will change and it would become more populist than it already was.

"The danger is that the Herald loses gravitas by falling into the elements of a true tabloid with large headlines, minimal type, and large pictures."

Advertising commentator Martin Gillman was enthusiastic, saying he expected the paper would be rewarded with readers.

But if it went ahead he expected initially there would be a backlash against a new format from some "stalwart" subscribers.

"People will instantly refer to it as tabloid, but there is no reason why that format should lend itself to popularist press any more than the Herald already is."

DR IN THE HOUSE

Highly regarded Telecommunications Commissioner Dr Ross Patterson faces an uphill task getting reappointed to the role.

Applications for the post of commissioner close today and Patterson has said that he wants to continue.

Sources say that the biggest factor going against the good doctor is that he wants to examine the need for regulation of content, because of its influence on competition in the new world of internet TV.

The Government, like Sky TV, believes there is no problem at all.

Three years ago Commerce Commission chairwoman Paula Rebstock's term was not renewed. Business leaders thought she was too stroppy challenging business.

But Patterson's departure would come at a crucial time for the future of television in this country - the shift of TV online.

His rejection would end a push to scrutinise the absence of regulation and oversight of content rules in this country.

Sources say Patterson is seen as open to an inquiry into regulating content - a standard provision to ensure competition in other countries that is absent here.

Sky TV has opposed this with gusto, arguing there is no need for regulation and the Government has offered backing.

A well-placed source supportive of a full inquiry said that should Patterson be dropped there would be a substantial delay for his replacement to come up to speed, killing off regulation at a pivotal time for the development of internet TV.

Patterson has the support of a number of players in the media and telco industries including MediaWorks and TelstraClear, both of which have raised concerns in public forums about the dangers of anti-competitive business practices.

Former Communications and Information Technology Minister Steven Joyce and his replacement Amy Adams have both been blunt, saying there is absolutely no need for regulation

RUPERT BARE

Amy Adams will choose the Telecommunications Commissioner from candidates selected by the Ministry for Economic Development.

The ministry will consult "all interested parties, which can include industry participants".

Three sources have told the Herald that Sky TV and its joint venture partner TVNZ have spoken against Patterson being reappointed, though both broadcasters have rejected that claim.

But as the influence of News Corporation lobbying comes under public scrutiny with Rupert Murdoch's appearance at the Leveson inquiry in Britain, it raises questions how News Ltd - with a controlling stake in Sky TV - has over the years influenced New Zealand broadcasting policy, or the lack of it.

Unlike News International in Britain, Sky has very little editorial leverage here, and its lobbying success seems to be from persuading New Zealand politicians that it should be left alone.

At the Leveson inquiry this week, News chairman Rupert Murdoch rejected suggestions editorial party endorsement in News International papers such as the Sun were linked to government broadcasting policy and commercial benefits for the company, including a decision to freeze the TV licence fee, limiting growth for the BBC, a major competitor.

Live televised coverage showed the state versus the media tycoon and it was theatrical stuff.

As this column has pointed out frequently enough, in this country Sky TV has enjoyed a charmed life, unfettered by any regulation, to the point that state broadcaster TVNZ has partnered in a joint venture.

Assiduous lobbying of politicians and public servants - on both sides of the House - has helped.

But in my opinion National support for Sky TV is based more on ideology than independent research that an unregulated market will be good for consumers.

The Leveson inquiry shows that lobbying is a key part of the business plan for Sky's parent company. News Corporation puts a great deal of effort into making its view known to politicians, and they pay a lot of attention.

- NZ Herald

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