Friday, December 16, 2022

The striking thing about the Dom Post's new editor

Stuff has announced the appointment of a new editor for the Dominion Post. Caitlin Cherry will replace Anna Fifield, who is returning to the Washington Post as its Asia-Pacific editor.

Cherry, who will start in February, has spent most of her career with RNZ in behind-the-scenes roles on news and current affairs programmes, including Morning Report and Nine to Noon. She currently has the title of Head of Content at Consumer NZ.

What’s most striking about her appointment is that judging by her LinkedIn profile, she has never worked for a daily newspaper – in fact appears to have no print experience of any sort. Yet she’s taking over the leadership of what used to be one of the country’s most influential mastheads.

This could be a move so bold and visionary that its brilliance isn’t immediately obvious. On the other hand it could be just plain dumb.

It could be interpreted as confirmation that Stuff isn’t really interested in print and possibly regards it as a dinosaur medium in the digital era. The company has often given the impression, intentionally or otherwise, that it regards its newspapers as an encumbrance.

Alternatively the appointment could be taken as yet another indication that Stuff doesn’t have a clue what it’s doing. When a puzzled former colleague of mine asked whether anyone knew what the company’s overall strategy was, the only answer I could think of was “slow-motion suicide”. But I hope my bleak assessment is wrong - because for all Stuff's missteps, hundreds of journalists still depend on it for a living. 


David McLoughlin said...

You raise some good questions Karl.

I have had various dealings with Caitlin over the years. I don't claim to know her well, but I do admire her. As well as being good at her job -- she was the bulwark supporting RNZ's afternoon programmes for example -- she is full of energy. She is someone who has a life. I have seen her snap "suck your own cock" at bullshitters. I sent her a congratulatory message the moment I saw her appointment, telling her I felt she was an inspired choice.

The DomPost's biggest problem IMO is the Stuff management's "Online First" mantra (introduced by Sinead Boucher well before she bought the company) which cannibalises its mastheads and starves what Sinead calls the "print product" of resources.

I presume Caitlin will have contemplated this, before jumping to the DomPost from the well-hidden position she had for a very short time with Consumer. I trust she'll have sought some assurances that she will be allowed actually to edit the paper and put news into it, not be a toothless sub-editor who fills the diminishing number of pages with whatever can be found already-published online.

In recent years, the DomPost editor appears only to exist to allocate what goes into the print edition; and most of that has already appeared online, sometimes days beforehand. It doesn't even have an editorial on weekdays any more. It stands for nothing, having become a bland printed regurgitator of the mush that fills the Stuff website. So few people want to buy it that they have stopped publishing circulation figures. I suspect its print sales have fallen to 20,000 on a good day and declining.

An editor prepared to make a stand for the printed paper might be able to make a difference. The NY Times seems to believe in Online First, like Stuff, but it still manages to sell 800,000 printed newspapers daily too. It is still a good printed read.

I'd like to see the DomPost thrive again, not just because it was my last daily paper post. I'd happily go back there if I thought it had a chance of a future. And so I want to see Caitlin succeed.

-- david mcloughlin, journalist

Unknown said...


I remind you that the head of RNZ is Paul Thompson, who took over the top radio news company with no previous broadcast experience. hee-hee-hee He left18 years experience at newspapers with daily deadlines, into radio with 30-minute deadlines. And he has been a success story.

Cathy Strong

Gordon Brown said...

Karl, Stuff isn't journalism. It's a ideological narrative in search of ways to express this. I know you think I'm being harsh - you'll say some good journalists still exist. Maybe they do, but they can't in good conscience do that whilst part of the Stuff Empire. At this point they're just enabling a creaking propoganda machine with a thin veneer of legitimacy. Voluntary suicide would be a kindness to Stuff it doesn't deserve.

rouppe said...

Is Consumer NZ not a print publication?

Karl du Fresne said...

Obviously it would be foolish to state categorically that no one can migrate successfully from one branch of the news media to another. Caitlin’s clearly a capable and respected operator in her field and may be able to pull it off. But there are some significant differences between her situation and that of Paul Thompson when he took over as CEO of RNZ in 2013. The most important is that Paul took over an organisation that was doing pretty well, had an established and stable audience and – crucially – was insulated against commercial pressures by its assured taxpayer funding. By way of contrast, Caitlin has been appointed editor of a newspaper that has been in decline for years and is subject to the vagaries of a turbulent market. It just seems unnecessarily risky, when the paper’s future is at stake, to put it in the hands of someone with no grounding in the demands of daily print journalism. But unfortunately this is consistent with Stuff’s past pattern of behaviour, which is to downgrade its print products, apparently in the desperate hope that digital will somehow save it.
Ironically it was Paul Thompson’s evangelistic commitment to digital, when he was Group Executive Editor of Fairfax Media (now Stuff), that led Stuff down what I believe is a blind alley in the first place.

Karl du Fresne said...

Technically you’re correct. I was applying a narrower definition of print. A four times yearly consumer affairs magazine and a daily newspaper are both print products in the same way that a Vespa motor scooter and a Kenworth truck are both motor vehicles.

Andy Espersen said...

Let me offer you one acid test with which to judge this new editor :

Will she, or will she not, abide by STUFF's blanket ban on publishing anything other than the "accepted" opinions on the reason for the present global warming??

Doug Longmire said...

You have hit the nail on the head, Andy.

I think you and I know that she will abide by the current rules, that anybody who questions or wants to analyze the topic objectively, is classed as a "denier" and will NOT get published.

transpress nz said...

Like the rest of the Stuff stable, the DomPost has lost credibility and respect through its constant biased statements in support of the present government's narrative and its constant attacks on those who oppose this government - which range from belittlement to nasty character assassination. Ethics don't matter any more, it's all about money. However, their business strategy has been a double-edged sword and the reverse cuts from it have arrived. That Fairfax couldn't find a buyer for Stuff in 2020 says it all. Any journalist wanting job security wouldn't choose Stuff.

Mark Wahlberg said...

It was about 1975, I was living in Upper Hutt and working on building sites in Wellington.

Six mornings a week at 6.30 am a van would head to the capital picking up workers along the way as it headed south.

Last stop at Trentham would be at a small Tobacconist where those in cattle class would re supply with the days nicotine of choice and the ubiquitous Dominion.

All the way into Wellington, the back of the van would be a sea of turning pages as each man became engrossed in the days news. It was easy to pick the gamblers amongst them as the first stop was the racing page. same with sport, politics, comics or Letters to the Editor. Most would be rolling and smoking Cigarettes without taking their eyes from the page.

I never got a paper as I couldn't read, but I enjoyed looking over my neighbors shoulder catching up with the Phantom and Diana's domestic dramas.

Then it was over as we arrived at work and carried on changing the face of the Capital for another day 10 stories up, rain or shine.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at the current editor Anna Fifield, with a massive amount of print experience she has decided to pull the pin and that will be to do with a lack of power and influence she has inside her own paper. Caitlin Cherry comes out of the rather small world that is RNZ in Wellington, where her experience in daily news is is significantly more limited than her experience in radio current-affairs-ish programmes. "The Panel" and all of its armchair "reckons" is not quite the journalistic spot we'd like the DomPost to be hitting. If Anna Fifield can't hack it anymore then I doubt Caitlin can. Please just don't destroy the paper in the struggle.

Eamon Sloan said...

We shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for great changes at the Dominion Post – or at any other Stuff newspaper, or their website. In Anna Fifield’s time the Dominion Post did not progress at all. About the only change I can be aware of was her gutting the Letters page by limiting readers to one contribution per month and producing an occasional letter from the editor. The space given over to the print versions of newspapers has shrunk year on year to the point where it is doubtful whether a print version will survive. I suppose Anna Fifield’s position as editor was knee-capped before it began. Good luck to her in returning to Wapo.

Not so long ago I cast a critical eye over all of Stuff’s newspaper publications and found the same, same, same, format. And many of the same stories, with occasional look good local angles. The stories are edited down to fit a minimal space as are stories now on Stuff’s website.

Andy Espersen said...

You're spot on, Eamon Sloan. Daily print versions of newspapers will not survive. Here in Nelson we have "Nelson Weekly" a little free advertisement paper we all get in our letter box once a week. Over the past couple of years our local STUFF paper, Nelson Mail, has become ever thinner - and Nelson Weekly ever thicker. This latter now covers more and more local news, letters to the editor and opinions - and more and more advertisements from small businesses. Only the larger businesses (and government, of course - with their full-page Covid ads that no sensible person ever reads) advertise in the Nelson Mail.

And as for national news and world news, people now get this from the net, of course - or from incredibly good journalism in papers such as Spectator Australia.