NZ Herald seeks to harness winds of change

NZ Herald seeks to harness winds of changeShayne Currie with key staff members and the Newspaper of the Year trophy in the new newsroom (l to r) Elizabeth Binning (chief-of-staff), Marcus Forbes (group general manager of digital content), Murray Kirkness (weekday editor), Mr Currie (managing editor), Miriyana Alexander (weekends editor)

The integration of NZME’s newsroom has put Newspaper of the Year New Zealand Herald at the centre of dramatic change. However as the paper explores new commercial opportunities and editorial practices, its sense of duty to its readers remains unchanged. LACHLAN BENNETT reports

When the New Zealand Herald was named the national/metropolitan Newspaper of the Year at the PANPA awards, editor Shayne Currie said that in terms of the winds of change blowing across the media industry, the Herald would “build windmills, not walls”.

Indeed, the NZME masthead is at the centre of dramatic change with the ongoing integration of NZME’s print, radio and digital news teams that, come December, will be housed together in a new purpose-built multi-platform newsroom.

While the integration process has brought many changes, new staff and new ideas, Mr Currie said the overall philosophy of the New Zealand Herald remained the same.

“It is absolutely our mission to advocate and inform and entertain and that will never go away,” Shayne Currie

“It is absolutely our mission to advocate and inform and entertain and that will never go away,” he said.

“Every day we are fighting for our readers, fighting for the truth and giving a voice to those who need help.”

The daily paper has spent the past several years campaigning against the expansion of a commercial port facility into Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour, urging the city’s council to come up with a better solution than a simple wharf extension that could forever change the outlook of the harbour.

“So that really came to a head this year when they tried to proceed with some more development plans in secret, and we soon exposed that for what it was and eventually the High Court ordered a stop on the work,” Mr Currie said.

“(Waitemata Harbour) really is the jewel in the Auckland crown and a big selling point for the city and that’s part of our job to raise these issues … and to make sure decisions are right for the entire city, not just for one particular sector.”

Another major campaign saw the New Zealand Herald team up with World Vision earlier this year for the “Forgotten Millions” campaign which was designed to raise money for children and refugees from Syria. The campaign raised $400,000 in its first four weeks, and has since reached more than a million dollars.

“And that’s astounding from a country at the bottom of the world to be able to drive that kind of donations for another country and for refugees. That’s been a really proud moment,” Mr Currie said.

The New Zealand Herald is suitably proud of its advocacy and investigative journalism. The masthead’s investigations editor Jared Savage also picked up the prestigious Hegarty Award for most outstanding young news publishing executive.

While these awards have inspired the paper to aim higher in the next 12 months, like many publishers the New Zealand Herald’s biggest challenge is to find the right business model to ensure it has the revenue to continue producing great journalism.

Pictures of NZME’s recently opened integrated newsroom in Auckland

The NZME newsroom integration has great potential for the commercial side of the business, such as providing economies of scale, attracting larger audiences to sell against and making it easier to offer clients multiplatform solutions.

This year’s Cricket World Cup and Rugby World Cup provided two major opportunities to road test the integration model, and NZME group revenue director Laura Maxwell said the results from those events were phenomenal.

“It’s when our content powerhouse really comes together that the magic happens. Being able to create and distribute content across print, digital, radio, events, experiential, video and social platforms puts us in an un-paralleled position in the NZ market,” she said.

“Our brands really hold the key to our future success though as audiences will gravitate to and follow content that keeps them in tune and tuned in. Once you free yourself of a platform or a channel, you can see the possibilities for how brands can extend and evolve to reach new audiences in new ways.”

Ciaran Davis, CEO of APN News & Media (owner of NZME), outlines his plans to drive audience engagement and revenue. Mr Davis discussed the NZME newsroom integration at 0:26.

Creating great news, sport and entertainment content is at the core of the New Zealand Herald and it has implemented a data strategy to provide information to make better editorial decisions and locate more targeted audience segments for their advertisers.

However, the most successful strategy for the New Zealand Herald in the past 12 months has been to think about audience first, then content alignment and lastly channel.

“We’ve stopped simply selling ads in the newspaper,” Maxwell said. “We now sell the New Zealand Herald audience and create a media strategy that mirrors the behaviour of the advertiser’s target market.”

From an editorial perspective, the New Zealand Herald has been putting more resources into long-form and investigative journalism, and has been exploring the possibilities of data journalism.

During the 2014 general election, it launched an interactive project that updated polling results in real time. It was faster than New Zealand’s own electoral commission website and provided results right down to the polling booth level.

The paper has just launched Insights, a separate website dedicated to all of the Herald’s interactive projects and data journalism investigations.

The New Zealand Herald has also been re-examining the rounds their reporters cover, placing greater emphasis on subjects like property prices and diversity, and using the NZME integration to re-evaluate leadership structures and identify gaps in the skill sets of their newsrooms.

Despite all these changes, safeguarding press freedom remains an enduring concern and Mr Currie said it is something the paper fights on a number of fronts every day.

“We’re in a constant battle with the national government around the Official Information Act and there are constant delays for our reporters for the information the public has a right to know,” Shayne Currie

“We’re in a constant battle with the national government around the Official Information Act and there are constant delays for our reporters for the information the public has a right to know. So there’s a big inquiry going on about that at the moment,” Mr Currie said.

Under what’s known as the “no surprises policy”, much of the information requested by journalists under the Official Information Act has to go through a government minister’s office before it is released.

“It’s just constant delays and our journalists do get very frustrated at times. It actually highlights the importance of making sure that we do hold the politicians to account,” Mr Currie said.

Embracing change, though, is of huge importance too, he said.

“We absolutely must recognise that at the core of change is an audience that is demanding information, which is still engaging in journalism, that loves great stories as much as the journalists in the room,” he said.

“It’s just that there will be different ways that we will tell our stories, not just in print but across different platforms and different formats.

“There’s many grand opportunities for journalists and for our sales people. It’s just getting that overall model right and explaining to our advertisers and potential advertisers just how much engagement and impact our journalism and content has.”

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