The Listener magazine was founded in 1939 on the eve of World War II. It managed to survive those difficult early years of global strife. But it could not survive Covid-19.
Yesterday the 80-year-old publication abruptly closed its doors, alongside shutters being pulled at North & South , Metro , Woman's Weekly and other titles that generations of New Zealanders have grown up with on coffee tables and nightstands, as the country's dominant magazine publisher, Bauer, shut up shop and walked away from its local business.
Against the bigger picture of the world in crisis, this is only a small story. But it is devastating one for media in New Zealand.
Media is by no means the only industry suffering the reverberations of the Covid-19 outbreak. Aviation, tourism and education face crises on larger scales, but media is one of the only sectors to simultaneously find itself more in demand than ever - even officially classed as an essential service - while also suddenly facing near-existential economic challenges.
The torrent of fast-breaking and hugely significant news over the past month has seen audiences flock to reliable media outlets. Readership of the Herald online has at times more than doubled during that time, and other publishers and broadcasters have reported similar surges in demand. In living memory there has never been more of a need for a functioning fourth estate.
But alongside this surging relevance and renewed sense of purpose are unprecedented economic challenges. The Covid-19 crisis has seen advertising revenues, lifeblood for all media here bar RNZ, sharply decline as businesses across the country take stock of their own woes and try to plan for deeply uncertain futures.
The media industry as a whole was already on shaky ground. The shifting of audiences online has seen advertising revenues largely hoovered up by offshore social media giants with little local responsibility or taxable presence. There was a crisis building before, and it is now breaking over us all.
Bauer's German owners had been seeking to offload their New Zealand titles for some time. Its keystone publication, Kia Ora , faced a future as cut back as the airline it serves. The Government's decision to not class the production of periodicals as essential during the lockdown seems to be responsible only for the shocking suddenness of cessation.
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And uncertainty of ownership was not limited to Bauer. Nine and OakTree - owners of Stuff and MediaWorks, respectively - have also been recently seeking to offload their New Zealand outlets. They too must now also be grappling with similar, and hard, choices.
NZME, publisher of the Herald , has acknowledged the current challenge to the NZX, saying it is "now seeing an impact on trading revenue due to the economic uncertainty resulting from the pandemic". The company is working proactively to adapt the business to help mitigate the impact of Covid-19, but earlier this week, as a direct and early consequence of the virus, Radio Sport ceased broadcasting.
The media is a competitive business, but also synergistic. A healthy media encourages excellence, better represents New Zealanders, and diffuses and better critiques power. We here at the Herald will continue to strive to shed light at this difficult time, but must acknowledge there are some dark days at present.