Friday, June 2, 2023

Please, Stuff, spare us the hypocritical rhetoric

There was more flatulent corporate blather yesterday from Stuff about its proud heritage.

In statements accompanying the announcement of a corporate restructuring, former Christchurch Press editor Joanna Norris – who now becomes managing director of Stuff Masthead Publishing, which apparently means she will take charge of metropolitan mastheads and websites – said: “Drawing on our 160-year history of journalism, we are reinvigorating and growing the portfolio of iconic journalism brands which are embedded in communities across New Zealand.”

Stuff likes to cite its journalistic legacy when it suits, but it has shown precious little respect for it. Often quite the contrary.

When it announced the phasing out of the Dominion Post masthead in April, it heaped scorn on the name Dominion, depicting it as a shameful hangover from colonialism. But the Dominion, although it was one of the younger daily papers in the country (established in 1907), was the starting point of what is now the Stuff group. It’s a strange thing for a company to skite about its heritage while simultaneously disowning a paper that formed its very foundation.

On that note, I should record again that when Alan Burnet, former managing director and later chairman of the Independent Newspapers Ltd (INL) group, died last year aged 101, I offered to write his obituary for the Dom Post. They weren’t interested.

The significance of this was that Burnet was the prime mover in creating the newspaper group that is now Stuff (although it was an infinitely stronger company then than now). The only reason Stuff owns those “iconic journalism brands” that Norris proudly refers to – the former Evening Post and Dominion, the Press, the Waikato Times, the Sunday Star-Times, the Southland Times, the Nelson Mail, the Manawatu Standard, the Taranaki Daily News, the Timaru Herald, the Marlborough Express – is that Burnet and his successor Mike Robson pulled them all together to form the nationwide group known as INL, which eventually morphed into Stuff.

To put it another way, Stuff wouldn’t exist had it not been for Burnet. Yet they declined to honour him with an obit, I suspect because he was an old white guy and they didn’t want to be reminded of their ideologically unfashionable roots. In the end my obit was published by the BusinessDesk website and by Burnet’s original home-town paper the Whanganui Chronicle, although it’s owned by Stuff’s rivals NZME.

Stuff doesn’t appear to be entirely ignorant of its own history, embarrassing though that history may be to its current management. The last edition of the Dom Post (now simply The Post) on April 28 announced the killing-off of the old name in a story headlined “Standing on the shoulders of giants” – an apparent acknowledgment of the generations of talented, dedicated journalists who worked for the Dominion and Evening Post and made them the successful and respected titles they were. Perhaps that headline was sneaked through by a subversive sub-editor who understood the paper’s history better than its owners do.

It wouldn’t have escaped the attention of long-term readers that two of the three stories the Post’s editor, Caitlin Cherry, cited as evidence of the paper’s supposed commitment to rigorous journalism happened long before the present regime took over. And the third example she pointed to – the coverage of last year’s parliamentary protest – seemed a curious choice, since the paper did no more than should have been expected of any half-competent news organisation. After all, the story was breaking in full public view right outside the centre of government. If that was the paper’s proudest moment under Stuff’s ownership, the cupboard is worryingly bare.

Incidentally, Stuff’s story about the launching of The Post included a message to readers that contained the sentence: “All of this innovation and rebranding doesn’t mean we are turning our back on our proud history.” Oh, but they have.  Under its current management, Stuff has followed the example of its former proprietors, the Australian group Fairfax, by continuing to methodically eradicate much of what made the precursor company, INL, so successful. The gutting of its titles, the hollowing-out of its newsrooms (the casualties of which included some of the company’s most capable journalists) and the inevitable subsequent collapse of its readership can only partly be blamed on the impact of digital technology, catastrophic though that was.

And what about that weasel word “proud”? This is the same company that, three years ago, indulged in an extravagant, breast-beating mea culpa, complete with front-page apology, about its supposedly racist history. In the process, it casually defamed generations of former employees, most of whom didn’t have a racist bone in their body.

Obviously, Stuff needs to make up its mind about whether or not it’s proud of its heritage. Either it is or it isn’t. 

As for Norris's statement that Stuff is "reinvigorating" its brands ... really? That will come as news to employees who have been through repeated downsizings and are reportedly bracing for a further round of redundancies. Who do Stuff think they're kidding? If credibility means anything to them, they would spare us the hollow, hypocritical rhetoric. 


Anonymous said...

I do wonder, had the new ‘leadership team’ been composed of four men and one woman, would there be outrage from the usual suspects about lack of “gender balance”? Funny how when the imbalance skews the other way it’s tumbleweed along an empty rural road.

EP said...

Stuff it! I say

rouppe said...

What I noticed was the distinct lack of diversity. Only one male in the 5.

Stuff is one of many organisations touting it's diversity credentials, yet there seems to be a lack of it there

Eamon Sloan said...

One of my favourite expressions is “Pardon me for thinking out loud”. Not long after the management buyout at Stuff we were bombarded with their fawning, snivelling and grovelling apologies to Maori culture. Please excuse the florid language. I have often wondered who are/were the cornerstone investors in Stuff. Anyone can join dots wherever but I could not possibly comment.

Anonymous said...

Go woke - go broke!

Phil said...

Stuff also said it is upholding democracy.

pdm said...

Karl an interesting Stuff cartoon this morning about Wayne Brown ALLEGEDLY not letting reporters who as annoying questions into his Media Briefing the other day. I cannot get the link to work.

This is the same STUFF OUTFIT that does not allow dissenting and contesting points of view on their various opinion and other pieces. They also send `warning notices' as follows to those that supposedly transgress - as I received earlier this week. I am sure you and your readers will spot the spelling mistake in it.

From Stuff.

``Your account has been issued a warning

In accordance with our community guidelines your account has been issued a warning.

While we appreciate your involvement with the Stuff community, several of your recent comments have been rejected because they are in breach of our terms and conditions, notably they contained breaches that were: – offensive or prejducial. The usage of “Aotearoa” is in line with Stuff’s code of ethics which states: Te reo Māori, an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand, is a taonga with endangered status. Stuff has a role to play in the normalisation and revitalisation of the language. We actively encourage the use of te reo Māori in content. That extends to frequently using te reo Māori names for our brands and mastheads, including Puna for Stuff. Words that are in common usage will not be translated into English. Please familiarise yourself with these – – before commenting further. Continued breaches could result in suspensions or being banned from commenting.

To continue participating in discussions, please press the “Acknowledge” button below.’

Yes – I did acknowledge.'

Stuff management are hypocrites in the extreme.


Karl du Fresne said...

Things are even worse than I thought, Donald.

The only effective way to signal disapproval of this repugnant control freakery is by boycotting Stuff. Unfortunately that would punish the good people still working there, some of whom I imagine are not at all happy with the course the company is taking under the present regime.

Paul Peters said...

Go woke go broke does not apply to Stuff. Is funding continuous from the ''quality'' journalism fund? Ads and donations are just covering it? Or ...?
I am sure Soros could help.

I notice it has allowed Ayling to comment but it is tokenism to make Stuff look diverse . The shrill race commentators are strangely silent in the lead-up to the election. This outfit operates as a branch of the LGM (Lab-Green-''Maori''). People used to read Pravda for an in inkling of govt policy and trends; Stuff serves the same purpose.

It flies kites on issues to see public reaction to potential govt policies. Even a 1000pc solid Labour ex-media associate of mine who backs much of the gender and so-called race policies is starting to question Stuff's role and aspects of policy. I was surprised _ Paul Peters

Doug Longmire said...

As I have observed previously, "Stuff" is well and truly stuffed as a credible news media outlet.

Steve said...

Hi Karl.

I took the time to read your obituary that STUFFed refused to print for you. An excellent piece where I learnt a lot I didn’t know.

It must upset you immensely considering your prior involvement to see a once great newspaper descend into the bowels of wokeness in the capital city, Wokeington.

I’m an ex born & raised Wellingtonian of many years & can attest to just how great both The Evening Post & then The Dominion Post were in their day. They were excellent forms of media. However in latter years - when The Dom Post became an ‘opinionpapaer’ - I got sick & tired of - as examples - being lectured to by one Glen McConnell about his immersive Te Reo & how all us pale, stale, males should be doing the same night classes, along with Verity Johnson woman-splaining in every one of her weekly columns what pathetic waste-of-space A-Holes all us men actually were. God forbid - should we ever walk down the beach in “budgie-smugglers” then essentially immediate arrest was the only remedy according to her. A young arrogant & vacuous upstart that thought she knew everything.

So like many others I cancelled my sub. More than that I removed all the STUFF apps from all my electronic devices. I have never read another STUFF article or paper since & can say my blood pressure is very much the better for it. And now I see they have dropped the “Dominion” word from their name. What a bunch of dripping-wet, virtue-signalling, hypocritical cretins.

As you quite correctly say, boycotting them is the ONLY answer.

And to Donald above - personally I would never have hit that “acknowledgment” button…..!

Karl du Fresne said...

Steve, I wonder if you're confusing Glenn McConnell with Joel Maxwell.

Steve said...

My bad Karl - you're quite correct. I did mean Joel Maxwell. Apologies to Glenn!

Jordan Heathcote said...

Defeating Stuff requires building a new newspaper which can beat it. It requires a newspaper which provides better coverage and outcompetes Stuff for the free journalism space. A few months ago, a Youtube talk by the founders of Vice, Gawker and Buzzfeed came out where they discussed the nature of their market. They essentially concluded people will refuse to pay for online newspapers outside the top tier unless they stand to significantly gain from it.

So NYT, WaPo, Times and co might get a paid subscriber base. But the prole feed of Stuff and NZH is not going to be profitable.

Another factor is the questionable effectiveness of online advertising and the dropping rate of return for online advertising.

Ironically, I brainstormed this with a friend who worked for a Student mag. His conclusion was, almost exclusively, that you would have to launch an online magazine using the substack model to directly fund certain journalists of quality who receive some sort of revenue sharing agreement to be exclusive on that site. You fundamentally need to subvert Social Media and go directly to your consumer with daily emails of articles (like Medium) or as Published emails (substack), as well as SMS/Chat App contacting (Telegram, Signal, Whatsapp etc) with links. Also providing an RSS feed for articles, podcasts etc.

The other option would be a completely free daily/monthly newspaper which was universally delivered within a geographic area. But it would effectively have to be subsidised immensely and would only be viable for someone with big money and an agenda.

I personally encourage people to install Adblockers (Ublock Origin) to deny Stuff money. Yet it is the 'default' site for most of the top 20% of our society, who actually matter to convince/persuade.