This week I became an investor in New Zealand media. I bought two magazines – old favourite The Listener, and newcomer Woman. I also make regular donations to Newsroom and Stuff. I don’t know what media buyers and advertisers will call me but I’ve adopted the mantle of Kiwi Greenshoots Media Consumer: someone who has changed their media buying habits to support local titles that are rising up from the ashes of the apocalypse that has destroyed our media landscape in the past 15 years.
No one escaped the omnipresent and sacrificial reach of Google and Facebook. They ate my career as a print journalist and have had a damned good go at destroying democracy globally, through bombing the advertising model that supported mainstream media.
Post-internet print media, in particular, was annihilated. Iconic media titles like The NZ Women’s Weekly, The Listener and even the NZ Herald were ‘saved’ (or gobbled up) by various media giants for a song once they struggled to make enough money on their own through traditional advertising methods.
The corporate castle needed to crumble
Some might say that this wrecking ball was much needed and in retrospect, I agree. The media had become more about supporting investors than actually serving audiences and the rot was advanced. To their corporate owners, these magazines were merely established brands that owned or dominated a sector of advertising that fitted their business model. It was always about the money.
For some of us though, these magazines were more than just a brand or an audience advertisers could target. Before the internet, magazines and newspapers were essential services. For generations of New Zealanders, these magazines were an integral part of our lives. For the journalists and editors who produced them, they were a source of pride and craftsmanship.
Taking the rose-coloured glasses off for just a moment, I do realise that those halycon days are over, as does anyone who has worked in the media for the past few decades. Today’s focus is far wider and quite dizzying. With a gazillion different ways to consume a billion types of content, any print publications that have survived seem like quaint reminders of a simpler time.
When Bauer, a German-owned media conglomerate, unceremoniously dumped pretty much all the remaining NZ magazines of recent years during the first lockdown, it seemed like the last magazine funeral was about to begin. I admit after years of watching magazines fold as an editor and writer, I wasn’t surprised and my tears were few. It seemed hopeless to expect anything less as the same thing had been happening for years worldwide and seemed inevitable. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter seemed to be where people were getting their news and entertainment from and they didn’t want to pay for any of it. I had resigned myself to the death of local media and had given up.
But thankfully, others hadn’t.
Famously, Stuff was recently bought for $1 by CE Sinead Boucher and has since begun to clean up its act by dropping the clickbait model and refusing to post content on Facebook. An advertising agency, keen to capitalise on whatever local advertising dollars might be left floating around, recently created a publishing platform for four new magazines with some highly experienced, out-of-work magazine journalists and editors. They too, have promised to drop trashy content anyone can find on the internet and concentrate on local people and issues.
These publishers are following their peers who pioneered the green shoot media space in New Zealand. Over the past few years, independent publishers and veteran journalists have set up digital platforms like Newsroom and The Spin Off. They break stories – our stories. They are digging deep where people in power don’t want them to go. They tell on politicians keeping secrets. They do what journalists do and what content producers can’t.
For the first time in about 20 years, we have what is starting to look like a truly local media landscape. No longer having to bow to the interests of international publishers who had no idea about New Zealand culture or flavour (and certainly no regard for it) these media brands are starting to feel like home. I feel pride when I see them using Te Reo (previously only seen in public and niche broadcasting) and talking about what matters to Kiwis. I see our faces, I hear our voices. It feels like home and it feels like us.
Battle ahead of convincing audiences to pay for content
Of course the new platforms, especially those in print, face a ferocious battle if they are going to rely solely on the outdated advertising-only model. I hope that their founders are smart enough to develop a digital-print hybrid model that is subscription- and sponsorship-driven, which seems to be the only way any media is surviving these days.
So people, dig deep if you want to see yourselves, hear yourselves and be yourselves. Buying Kiwi-made never felt so important and reconnecting with a sense of national pride seems to be back in vogue as we’re all staying at home and keeping safe while a pandemic rages on our doorstep.
Go on and do your bit to support our local media and take out a subscription. It will help keep people in jobs, it will help keep our voices alive and yes, it will help us have our say and keep our democracy alive and healthy.
Looking around the world right now, that seems important.