Wednesday, October 19, 2022

More desperate floundering at Stuff

Is Stuff stuffed? That’s a question that will inevitably be asked after the announcement of a restructuring that a rival media outlet predicts will result in savage cuts to staff numbers in the company’s provincial newsrooms.

According to RNZ, the Manawatu Standard, Nelson Mail and Timaru Herald will have their newsroom numbers cut from seven reporters to three. Two other Stuff titles, the Taranaki Daily News and Southland Times, would keep four reporters each.

The New Zealand Herald’s account of the pending changes isn’t quite so bleak. It reports merely that “positions are under review in several regions where [Stuff] has a presence”.  But anyone familiar with the loaded phrase “positions are under review” knows it almost never results in a good outcome.

No one should be fooled by the anodyne assurances given by Stuff in response to the Herald’s inquiries. The paper quotes Stuff’s chief content officer, Joanna Norris, as saying the company is “proposing some changes in tasks and roles in our local newsrooms.”

Norris went on: “The changes will strengthen our local news operations and ensure we continue to have journalists based right across New Zealand, deeply connected to covering local issues and people.

“This will allow our journalists with boots on the ground in our regional newsrooms to produce unique, enterprise [sic] journalism relevant to their readers and to engage regularly with our subscribers and future audiences.” But anyone who has followed Stuff’s fortunes in recent years will know there is a vast credibility gap between the company’s buzzword-laden rhetoric and reality. It’s a measure of Stuff’s decline that former journalists such as Norris unblushingly use empty corporate blather that any self-respecting, sceptical reporter should treat with disdain.

RNZ quoted Norris as saying Stuff would establish a new regional team made up of a group regional editor, four news directors and nine breaking news reporters in what she described as “a proactive step to strengthen our local reporting”. But how local reporting is strengthened by further eviscerating already gutted newsrooms isn’t clear. The changes foreshadowed today simply look like more desperate floundering by a company that lost its way long ago.

If RNZ’s report is correct, two points seem immediately obvious. The first is that Stuff’s journalist numbers in the provinces will be cut to the point where it will be impossible to maintain any pretence of comprehensive, quality news coverage.

The second is that it’s hard to see how the company’s editorial operations, at least in the regions, could ever bounce back from this degree of degradation. Stuff’s provincial titles are locked in a downward spiral where a continuing decline in editorial quality can only lead to further loss of support from advertisers and readers.

The impression is that Stuff is planning a retreat to its Auckland and Wellington metropolitan bases, but even there its future hardly looks bright. One sign of the company’s decline is that the Audit Bureau of Circulation no longer publishes Stuff’s newspaper sales figures. The reason can only be that they are so dire as to be embarrassing.  

As someone whose association with papers now in the Stuff group goes back to 1968, my immediate emotional response to today’s announcement is one of regret that a once formidable and competently managed newspaper company should have come to this. Naturally I also feel sympathy for journalists whose loyalty has been betrayed by a company that has made the wrong decisions at almost every turn and, in the process, systematically squandered a proud legacy. 

Some of those mistakes have been operational: for example, placing blind faith in providing free, online news at the expense of the traditional paid-for printed product – a baneful trend that began under the evangelistic leadership of then group executive editor Paul Thompson (now head of RNZ and a contender for the top job in the state-owned media giant hastily being cobbled together, despite the absence of any compelling business case, by the Labour government).  That resulted in a devastating hollowing out of news-gathering operations and a huge loss of talent and institutional experience as some of Stuff’s best editorial staff – notably including non-believers in the brave new world of digital – were “let go”.

Other wayward decisions could more correctly be described as philosophical, such as the fervent editorial embrace of identity politics and the culture wars. Somewhere along the line, Stuff abandoned journalism’s traditional role, which was to reflect the society it served, in favour of a radical new model in which the company’s newspapers and journalists promoted the type of society - a very different one - that they thought New Zealand should become. In the process Stuff alienated its most loyal readers, instead apparently seeking to attract a new, woke audience who would rather (to use the words of legendary British tabloid editor Kelvin MacKenzie) turn their left testicles into kebabs than read a paper.

The results are now all too plainly evident, and much as I feel sorry for the Stuff journalists whose jobs appear to be on the line, no one should be in any doubt as to where the blame lies for the company’s precipitous decline.





Anonymous said...

It's been many years since I read Stuff for real news commentary. Living in Australia, I'm not really affiliated to any party but the opinion as news wears thin and I must say that I have never seen an opposition so scrutinized while the actions and policies of those actually in power slip under the radar. Barely a day goes past without an opinion piece or a cartoon making jibes against anyone seen as opposing the current government or their policies. When the government muck up, don't tell the truth or try to hide their evergrowing incompetence, it is all hidden or poorly examined. Where is the objectivity needed to be considered a proper source of the news?

Odysseus said...

"Go Woke, go broke." Stuff last changed hands for a dollar. That was far too much. Two rocks and a piece of string would have been fairer. I yearn for Stuff's demise. It has become a malignant actor. Its shocking targeting of anti-mandate protestors was the most disgusting thing I have seen for a long time. Those protestors are now being proved right with Pfizer's admission last week to the European Parliament the mRNA vaccine was never proven scientifically to stop transmission, the only justification for the mandates, and which the government knew before it imposed them. Goodbye Stuff, and don't let the door etc...

Mark Wahlberg said...

The story below about ex MP Ian Lees-Galloway and one time fire and brimstone preacher Jono Naylor's new vocation in the Loaves and Fishes business, makes gripping reading.

I found the disclaimer at the end of the article interesting because it brought back memories of Mr Lees Galloway's fall from grace when it was discovered he had been having an inappropriate relationship with a staff member from his electorate office in Palmerston North.. Tacky stuff.

"Disclaimer: Sonya Holm is a former communications and social media advisor to Iain Lees-Galloway in the Palmerston North electorate office. She is now a Stuff reporter."


I'd connect the dots but they have no numbers attached and I have never been any good at multi tasking...

Ben Waimata said...

Stuff has moved so far away from balanced journalism that it almost seems NZ would be better off without it. I appreciate stuff is not aimed at my demographic (middle aged rural) but still it has been a long time since I read their version of news with anything other than an odd combination of amusement and disgust. They have had their chance to present news with a wider perspective than their inner-city latte/woke culture target audience, but they decided to stick with that demographic, and now few of us will lament their demise.

Odysseus said...

I found this description of "Woke" in an article by Xin Du in today's Australian Spectator. I think it captures the essence of "Woke" and the spirit of "Stuff" perfectly: "Woke is a set of bien-pensant ideas that are half-baked and blindly dogmatic, fuelling a sense of self-importance while barely hiding a brittle ego. It is body-guarded by the most vicious smear machine, immune to reason, antithetical to free enquiry and basic freedoms, while outwardly claiming to be caring and kind.""

Bryan Flanagan said...

If Stuff were a dog I would be talking with the vet about having it put down as an act of kindness.

Anonymous said...

“The first is that Stuff’s journalist numbers in the provinces will be cut to the point where it will be impossible to maintain any pretence of comprehensive, quality news coverage.”

Oh you mean that isn’t already the case nationwide for Stuff?

hughvane said...

Stuff’s decline, dare I say demise - or is it a little too soon - began when someone akin to a kindergarten graduate decided on the name. For my part, it rapidly became Stuff & Nonsense, then Stuff & Garbage, followed by …..

To add insult to injury, it then began begging for donations, as if the Govt’s bribe was insufficient to cover its bias.

The great injustice, tragedy even, is that the touters of media muck actually believe they are a chosen sector of society, bestowed with a mission to expose, and potentially destroy, anyone who holds an alternative view to that of what they perceive as the majority, or the Woke, whom they believe they represent. The level of self-delusion is mind-boggling.

Tom Hunter said...

To your first point about the reasons for their failure - the decision to simply give away online, the reporting that you otherwise paid for - also being major contributing factor!

Perhaps it's just a matter of competition; how many MSM outlets do you need to get your daily dose of Politically Correct thinking on all subjects? You can see the same thing in the USA where FoxNews realised they basically had half the country's population to themselves while the alphabet networks fought each other for the other half.

A number of MSM outlets have tried to get online payment and it's never been a success. Why pay for the same opinions you get for free on Twitter - as well as news, including video, from the public, who can now all be citizen journalists, courtesy of smart phones.

To be blunt; what does such an outfit now offer? Immediate coverage of accidents and natural disasters was always faster via radio and TV and now it's even faster via smartphone-internet. Non-disaster stories with more in-depth analysis? Well look at what Thomas Cranmer has achieved? That's the sort of material you used to expect from "the newspaper": little or no sign of it now, probably because they didn't want to dig into it, although maybe modern reporters just don't know how to investigate any longer? As for "editorial opinion", something that readers used to value? Well, nobody gives crap about that any longer since such opinions sound no different to Leftie Twitter rants and thus have the same amount of credibility.

Meh, Die MSM, Die

Richard said...

I suppose that is what happens when you turn your back on 60% of your existing customers.
As a once avid Dompost reader, I will not mourn their passing.

Colin said...

I gave up reading Stuff articles when they started following the gov't mandate of renaming our country and dropping in a mish mash of te reo and English. Either make the whole article in one language or the other. We must be the only country in the world who mixes two languages together and expect people to read it.

Paul Peters said...

I am sure the government will find a way to keep them afloat with more money for ''quality journalism'' (that's another thing these days the word quality is always used without an amplifier ie bad, good, whatever. It automatically means good, maybe that is an Americanism). However some people are more aware of the ''fund'' these days but I talk to large numbers of folk who are totally unaware of how Stuff is funded and regard my pointing out the funding as a made -up conspiracy theory . Stuff will be delighted at bthe renaming of the country though. I see the petition to change the name is going to the Maori Select Committee ...and who would dare challenge their verdict...the name will be changed without a referendum. Ardern talks about the Aotearoa name being commonly used as if it was spontaneous rather than govt and uni and media driven.