John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: Colman moving on from NBR

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Publisher Barry Colman at the helm of the NBR. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Publisher Barry Colman at the helm of the NBR. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Barry Colman has sold the National Business Review but has hinted he may write a column for the paper.

The one-time reporter turned publisher has sometimes taken a close interest in editorial issues at the NBR. "I have ink in my veins," he says. "But I know writing a column is hard work - I'm not going to make a commitment like that until the dust has settled [on the sale]."

Colman is well-known around the media and advertising traps. After the handover on Monday, he has an ongoing role as a consultant. "But the word 'consultant' spells unemployed," he says with a chuckle.

He turns 65 soon and it was a good time to move on. He has owned the paper since 1991.

Having set up a paywall and with the online operation running well, NBR was trading well.

The sale seems to be coinciding with a change in lifestyle.

Colman has been advertising his private jet - a Cessna Citation - for US$3 million ($3.7 million).

Don't be surprised if he is seen at his North Queensland haunt with an even flasher vessel than his 30-metre Liberte IV in the near future.

GREAT SCOTT

The new owner of the NBR is the current chief executive, Todd Scott, a former media salesman and Lotto presenter with Hillary Timmins.

Westpac Bank is also part of the deal, and Colman says details are subject to a confidentiality agreement.

Yesterday as journalists wrote valedictories to Colman, Scott was lying low. There have been rumours since he started at the NBR in 2008 - to launch its online strategy - that he was being lined up to eventually buy Colman out.

Those increased after Colman suffered a bout of poor health two years ago. The sale price has not been disclosed.

In 2006 Colman was courted by Fairfax and APN News & Media, publisher of the Herald, both of which were interested in buying the NBR. Both approaches were rejected, and it led to Fairfax making its ill-fated investment in the Independent.

Colman says he is pleased the NBR is remaining in independent ownership.

Originally from Rotorua, he made his fortune in Hamilton with Liberty Publishing and the real estate publication Property Press, which he later sold to Kerry Packer's ACP.

In 1991, he famously bought the heavily indebted NBR off Fairfax for $1 and immediately changed it from a daily to a weekly title.

In ensuing years - with occasional roles as the quasi-editor - he established an idiosyncratic style that made the NBR unique in the media world.

Under Colman the NBR has had a reputation for being journalistically fearless, forthright and offering strong legal support for writers and independence for journalists.

On the other hand, the atmosphere veered between fraternal, eccentric and harsh, and Colman presided over a revolving door of departing staff.

* Declaration of interest: I worked at the National Business Review off and on from 1995 to 1997, and 2002 to 2006.

EDITORIAL SPLITS

A senior vice-president at global public relations company Porter Novelli - Christopher Barger - says bloggers have lost the fight in the United States to be recompensed by PR companies for running press releases.

Last week, this column reported that the TV blog Throng had complained that blogs running press releases should be recompensed, a view backed by another high-profile blog, WhaleOil.

Barger - who is in New Zealand for a social media conference - says there was a similar dynamic in the US two years ago, but PR companies moved away from the approach of paying for coverage in blogs and Porter Novelli opposes it.

The US Government imposed new rules requiring advertiser support to be declared on blogs.

"Bloggers did not recognise the traditional separation with public relations being linked to journalism and marketing to sales, because for them sales and journalism were the same thing," Barger says.

"PR companies took the view that consumers treated paid-for content a little differently than [they] did editorial.

"Ultimately in the US Porter Novelli came out on the side of separation and believes that as other markets mature they will do the same."

PR-BASED NEWS

New Zealand is seeing a slew of commercial content in the news - though it's not clear if it is with the connivance of advertisers.

Barger says that in the US branded content is slipping through the net more than it used to.

Brand placement with editorial is more common in soft stories and human interest stories, he says.

Hard news stories are not so susceptible.

"But the trick for PR people trying to get more material in the media was to ensure it did not become too blatant.

"I don't care about the brand's message, I care about the story."

Public relations people are trying to craft the story in such a way that journalists see a story for their audience and cover it accordingly, he says.

The approach is more relevant as media face cuts to advertising revenue and staff.

SPREAD THE WORD

Campbell Live's coverage of the Choco-ade biscuit revival sparked talk about commercial plugs, real or perceived, and a One News item about Marmite on Monday night adds to the debate.

Dunedin reporter Megan Martin told the story of a mum lamenting the lack of Marmite, which she used to help her autistic young son to swallow his medicine, and she went out of her way to track some down.

Marmite is at least a bona fide iconic brand, and while the editorial coverage on the shortage has been overdone by all media it has some validity.

But One News smothered the item from top to bottom with shots of the advertiser's fine products, including stacks of Marmite and the child wielding jars as a superhero.

Sachets of Marmite were even lined up against a shelf to fit into the shot.

Television New Zealand news and current affairs insists there was nothing untoward in the item - it was a personal story about the woman and her son and not about Marmite at all.

The claim is hard to take seriously.

IN THE BAG

Back Benches presenter Wallace Chapman has been the face of public television, so it was surprising to seeing him featured in the Sunday Star-Times magazine liftout providing a very personal plug for fashion brand Louis Vuitton.

In the piece last week, Chapman - who also produces the NZ Street Style blog - explained why he loved his $2500 Louis Vuitton travel bag and gave a commentary that the bag gives "an intrinsic connection with a piece of fashion history that has trumped trends and validated itself over time".

It included a quote from the Louis Vuitton chief executive with a generous amount of history on the brand.

Despite Chapman's purple love of the brand in the Sunday piece, he insisted that he had not been paid to write his love note to Louis and received no payment for the brand being mentioned on his successful fashion blog.

PRIME TIME

Television New Zealand faces an acid test on whether it has room for intelligent prime-time documentaries.

Razor Films is completing a four-part documentary series, What Makes Us Who We Are, based on globally recognised research from Otago University and featuring 38 years of research by New Zealanders.

In academic circles it is regarded as a brilliant resource. The four one-hour documentaries were made with $400,000 of funding from New Zealand On Air and an unspecified amount from Otago University and TVNZ.

But the project - directed by Paul Casserly - was commissioned by TVNZ six years ago and delayed for about two years while producer Mark McNeill sought additional funds.

TV values have changed and McNeill acknowledged that the project would be unlikely to be commissioned by a network nowadays.

But TVNZ says it still intends to run the documentaries in prime time next year.

- 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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