8 Apr 2011

Media giant says it wanted to save NZPA

8:09 am on 8 April 2011

Media giant APN says it wanted to keep the New Zealand Press Association going, but could not persuade rival Fairfax to do the same.

The country's only national news agency is to stop reporting by the end of this year after Australian-owned Fairfax, a main shareholder, decided to stop paying for its stories.

NZPA was established in 1880 and supplies stories for newspapers and other news outlets.

It has about 40 journalists and support staff, mostly based in Auckland and Wellington, as well as a small number of administration staff. Employees were told on Wednesday that the board had decided the agency would close.

APN, which publishes the New Zealand Herald and several other titles and says it rates NZPA.

However, chief operating officer Rick Neville says the company could not afford to provide the money to make up for Fairfax's soon-to-end contribution.

"We've been working quite hard around the board table for many, many months to try to persuade Fairfax that the NZPA model is a good one and should be supported.

"But it was becoming more and more apparent that Fairfax was expanding its own content resources."

Mr Neville says it was unrealistic for his firm to fill the Fairfax economic vacuum, so it began building a son-of-PA: having teams of reporters in four main centres, with input from independent papers like the Otago Daily Times.

"In many ways it will be returning to the copy-sharing model that existed before Fairfax changed their tune back in about 2006, where the NZPA operated as a clearing house."

However, Mr Neville says he still regrets NZPA's demise. "It's done a fantastic job over a very long period of time and it will be missed."

Fairfax and APN will now run their own competing news agencies.

NZPA wasn't meeting needs - Fairfax

Fairfax says it withdrew from NZPA because it was not providing the sort of reporting it wanted.

Fairfax New Zealand group executive editor Paul Thompson says NZPA does not do much original reporting, nor uncover great scoops.

Mr Thompson says Fairfax's focus is exclusive compelling content, which he believes can be achieved better by its own journalists.

Fairfax has about 750 journalists across the country and will be looking to hire about 15 more, he says.

The company publishes metropolitan dailies the Dominion Post, The Press and other titles.

There has been criticism that the closure will mean the end of content with a strictly New Zealand and independent point of view, but Mr Thompson said Fairfax is committed to driving New Zealand stories.

But former economics journalist Simon Louisson, who covered finance for NZPA and several international agencies, thinks its demise will be a blow to democracy, since the agency covers things such as parliamentary select committees that other organisations do not always bother with.