19 Nov 2018

Paper cuts: 'You need the local journalist who picks up on that local issue'

12:54 pm on 19 November 2018

A proposal to slash local journalists has some Aucklanders worrying their communities will fall off the news radar - and their leaders will be unaccountable.

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Photo: screenshot

Stuff told its staff earlier this month it planned to sack the 15 journalists who work in its free, community papers in Auckland and Northland.

A further four community news director jobs would go.

Instead, it would source news content for the papers from its main Auckland bureau and bolster that with four journalists - one each to cover North, West and South/East Auckland and one for Whangārei.

Hibsicus and Bays local board chair Julia Parfitt said any loss would be a sad day for democracy.

Some of Auckland's local areas had populations the size of other New Zealand cities and needed people with their ears to the ground, she said.

"I've come under my fair share of flack over the years but I thought that was a wonderful check and balance. You need to be able to justify yourself."

The area was one of the few to have a local news alternative - the privately owned Hibiscus Matters.

Owner Janette Thompson said local papers often uncovered important issues that were then picked up by nationwide media but focusing on the issues that were close to home were just as important, she said.

"[For example] deciphering council plans can be quite challenging at times so we put a lot of effort into the local council work we do to try to put it into plain English."

Takapuna woman Dorothy McHattie had made headlines herself when she protested against the demolition of some Art Deco homes in St Heliers.

Journalists were a vital watchdog in communities and could use their expertise to dig into things that residents may not know how to," she said.

"You need the local journalist who picks up on that local issue and then develops it into a story and goes behind the scene which, just living here, can't do all that."

But the Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board chair Lotu Fuli was a little more philosophical - saying change in news had been happening for a long time.

"I am sad that that's happening because possibly we won't get the same amount of coverage that we've been used to but I do understand that's the way the world is moving."

Media commentator and former New Zealand Herald editor, Gavin Ellis, said most news outlets had reduced local coverage over the past decade and the latest Stuff cuts would certainly have an impact.

If Stuff decided to sell some of the papers to a local business keen to take them on, then it was possible the titles could survive, or even thrive, he said.

"When NZME divested itself of the Wairarapa Times Age it was picked up by local businessmen who are really making a go of it," he said.

Stuff declined a request to be interviewed but told staff that its website Neighbourly would help people stay connected with their local areas.

Its proposal was under a formal consultation and would be finalised before the end of the year.

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