Matt Nippert - certified hack, Auckland

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Young junkies rejoice

The New Zealand Herald is acknowledging the fact that it doesn't appeal to younger readers. Well, duh. Later this week an off-shoot publication Fuse is being launched, targeting the 18-29 year-old age bracket. It's being provided as an insert in the main paper, and will be dumped at campuses around the North Island.

Regarding the main paper's lack of appeal to the youth of today, I know this thanks to that age-old tradition (officially frowned on, but still an essential media tool) - the leak. A swish powerpoint presentation has been doing the rounds, with the Herald inviting sponsor to pitch $50,000 each for association rights with Fuse and $30,000 in advertising credit for use in the main newspaper.

(Interestingly enough, the advertising credit can't be spent on Canvas. Like, are they worried Army recruitment ads amidst the cosmetics might be off-putting to those seeking lifestyle information? Or is it just real soldiers don't wear makeup - and certainly don't care nuthin' 'bout etiquette?)

But onto the fun stuff, where teen focus groups rips shreds off old granny. The presentation states: "The New Zealand Herald is perceived to deliver a mono-cultural, middle-class perspective on news and issues." Ouch. But with such a large circulation, it isn't surprising content should begin to mirror the opinions of the average, mono-cultural, middle-class reader. There's also some sophisticated criticism, the paper lambasted for it's "limited international coverage", a "shift towards tabloid-style content and sensationalism", and a "lack of depth to stories".

So we have a new publication targeted directly at youth, Fuse. Mind you, not one that will necessarily have more substantive stories - they aren't paying their student contributors. With 5 core sponsors signed up, generating $250k in instant capital, you might think there's the budget to perhaps go at least slightly professional. After all, a small move in this direction would really cut contributors from their main competitors - student publications up and down the country. But more on this later. (I hear rumours Simon Pound is using his blog to try and score a politics column. Hope you've got your negotiators set to attack mode buddy...)

There's also another possible explanation for the explosion of Herald subsidiaries - such as the more substantive (and poorly hidden) Herald on Sunday. Simply put, the economy is booming and newspapers can't fill a quarter-page with content quickly enough to flog the remainder to advertisers. The Herald, on weekends especially, is nearing critical mass. Expanding the number of pages would require substantial letter-box modifications all over the country. The solution? More, not bigger, papers.

A relic from the Wellington student media wars of 2001-2003 is also reforming, the anti-establishment (and lad-mag) Lucid. The bi-monthly (produced with not inconsiderable assistance from the crew at Rip it Up), launches on September 1, and is running full-colour, full-gloss to be distributed across 22 campuses in the North and South Islands.

It will be interesting to see when the advertising market bottoms out how many of these new supplements and publications go down the tubes. But for now, if you're a media junkie, prepare for overdose. And if you're a dealer already in the student media market - expect stiff competition for your turf.

A Critic story flagged in an earlier blog, regarding Student Choice spokesperson Glenn Peoples, resulted in a complaint to the Press Council (the ruling isn't online yet, sorry). Much to the amazement of media pundits, it was actually heard. As far as I am aware, only the infamous Craccum suicide story has been considered by this august, yet toothless, body. (See rulings 783-7.)

"The Press Council, which receives few complaints about student magazines, nonetheless was happy to accept this one," the ruling reads. Critic editor Hamish McKenzie was happy for the case to be heard, although he would have been within his rights telling it to fuck off. Even more amazingly (to those with somewhat cynical opinion on the student press), is that Critic won the substantive part of the case.

Peoples argued the article implied he was behind a stream of forged letters purporting to show mass student opposition to a student association decision. This was rejected. "Critic had been justified in checking its suspicions about the dubious letters with Mr Peoples, given the tone of his own letter and his involvement with Student Choice. It set out his denial in the article."

Peoples also complained his wife, Ruth Elizabeth, was called Ruth Peoples. The impression, at least in the letters pages, that these were two unconnected letter writers was misleading according to Critic. Calling her Ruth Peoples, the council decided, "had done no more than state a fact - that Ruth Elizabeth and Ruth Peoples were one and the same."

Go you good things! Go! Especially mad props to Holly Walker, the news editor who broke the story, and editor McKenzie who allowed his ethics and judgment to be scrutinised. It's done wonders for the credibility of their publication. (Which is looking mighty fine this year, I must ad.)

Critic's also had some flak from the National Party this year. First, for an article talking to a former head of the National Front about why he liked Don Brash so much. Brash wrote in saying "The disconnect with what I have said is so extreme as to be beyond rational debate." Then after a Truth parody cover (issue 17) featuring the leader of the opposition looking fine in a thong, Brash's Press Secretary wrote in saying he hoped Helen Clark would get similar treatment. When you're man of the moment, expect parodies. As Edmund Burke once said "A politician complaining about the press is like a ship's captain complaining about the sea."

Unofficial outrage from the Opposition came over this Top 40 list of reasons to vote National. It included the stunningly hilarious "Because Katherine Rich is an MPILF." Apparently her office called Critic, angrily, asked what the American Pie acronym meant and then threatened legal action. Get a life boys in blue, or stop letting your MPs show cleavage on the front pages of national newspaper supplements. The chamber ain't exactly a beauty contest, and I suspect MPILF is actually is a term of endearment..

Salient, my old stomping ground, took issue last week with this front-page story in the Dominion Post. Reminiscent of the harassment dished out to boxer Soulan Pownceby, the Dom chronicled alarm and shock at the Classics department at Victoria University that a convicted murderer was studying in their midst. Shock! Horror! Reporter Oskar Alley even found an outraged student to protest at the criminal in his department.

Salient news editor Keith Ng tried talking to the classics department and, unsurprisingly, found them rather gunshy at the sight of another journalist. Rather than outrage, comment was quite forgiving of the man's past. The media "should just leave [the man] alone ... he's a good guy and doesn't deserve this," according to one student. "Of the staff and students approached by Salient - including some who share classes with the man - none expresed concerns about his past. Most were distressed, however, at the media coverage that had taken place so far", wrote Ng.

Even better, rather than a front-page scoop for the Dom, Ng discovered the news had broken several months before - in that hard-news bastion Women's Day. Dom editor Tim Pankhurst defended his paper's reporting: "the public has a right to know of the background of someone who has committed such a vicious crime".

Of course where does the rights of those who have served their sentence to live a normal life come into this equation? Responsibly, and making a point, Salient did not name the individual. Alley had printed a picture and a description along with a name. Excellent work, and it's good to see student media gunning in the mainstream. After all - the mainstream is gunning for them.

This competition, whilst good for media consumers, is going to be tough on student publications who don't have established reputations or contributors. Students wanting to write and get published (when there's no payment on offer), will tend to pick the publication that looks the best, and places their stories around similar, readable, content.

Advertising revenue will also be further split, tending as it does to go for publications with high production values regardless of circulation or quality of content. This fight could get ugly - but the survivors will be all the better for it.

And, as a reward for those of you who have stayed on this long, here's a couple of nice links to keep yourselves amused:
UPDATE: Actually, I should also point out word of Fuse broke well in advance of its official launch. By who? None other than the good folks at Critic. I'll hold off further platitudes for now...