18 Oct 2022

Stuff proposes cutbacks in regional newsrooms

From Mediawatch, 8:21 pm on 18 October 2022

Stuff is proposing changes to its regional and local newsrooms which could result in significant job cuts for journalists. 

The Commerce Commission has declined a merger which would have created New Zealand’s biggest news media company
Fairfax Media NZ, Stuff.co.nz, 
NZME, NZ Herald.

The Commerce Commission has declined a merger which would have created New Zealand’s biggest news media company Fairfax Media NZ, Stuff.co.nz, NZME, NZ Herald. Photo: RNZ/ Brad White

The media company released details of a potential restructure to staff at its regional publications today.

The Manawatū Standard, Nelson Mail, and Timaru Herald would see their newsroom staff numbers cut from seven reporters to three under the proposal, Mediawatch understands. Taranaki Daily News and The Southland Times would keep four reporters each.

All existing 'news director' roles would be disestablished. One editor would remain at each publication, but the people filling those roles would be expected to write news.

Stuff proposes to counterbalance job losses by establishing a new regional team made up of a group regional editor, four news directors and nine breaking news reporters.

Stuff’s chief content officer Joanna Norris said the changes "are a proactive step to strengthen our local reporting...  and our local and regional news operations."

"This will allow our journalists with boots on the ground in our regional newsrooms to produce unique, enterprise journalism relevant to their readers and to engage regularly with our subscribers and future audiences,” she told the New Zealand Herald in a statement.

That echoes language from the company's proposal, which said it "would seek to retain our journalists with experience and deep connections to local people, issues and communities".

"Some impacted staff may move to the new regional newsdesk, some may stay within their local newsroom team and some may take up vacancies at other metropolitan newsrooms," it said.

One Stuff journalist who did not want to be named told Mediawatch the restructuring plan had come as a blow for local reporters already struggling with their workload.

He did not believe a new regional team with a focus on quick turnaround breaking news would ease that burden.

"The pressure isn't in breaking news. The pressure is in going out and doing local stories. That's the pressure, and that’s where the cuts are being made."

Staff were crying in the office when they received the outline today, he said.

"People are stressed, obviously. It’s been a weird few years, but we got through it because the rhetoric has been that it’s going to be so positive on the other side. Then you come along and say ‘sorry but we’re gutting your newsroom, but by the way we still want all this lovely regional journalism'," he said. 

"You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say I’m going to get really fit and then spend all my time on the couch eating fried chicken and drinking beer. It’s the whole ‘actions speak louder the words' thing."

Stuff’s stable includes the five regional papers affected by today’s proposal along with its titular website, The Sunday Star-Times and the Waikato Times.

The Marlborough Express is not affected by the proposal. Its newsroom is currently funded through the Public Interest Journalism Fund.

A Q&A section attached to its proposal says Stuff has no plans to cut back the frequency, circulation or distribution of its regional papers, and that they will retain the same amount of content.