New Zealand’s media industry is reeling following a dark week which saw two of its biggest institutions shut down.
Let’s take a look at the week that was.
First, it was Radio Sport who stopped broadcasting on Monday after its owner NZME switched the frequency of New Zealand’s only sports-dedicated sports radio station over to Newstalk ZB.
Hundreds of jobs were lost, and not just the voices you hear on the airwaves. You’re also talking about the producers, the reporters in the field and all the researchers.
Furthermore, it all happened incredibly quickly, almost faster than the speed in which news breaks on a day to day basis.
Radio Sport housed New Zealand’s best minds in the sports media business and their departure simply cannot be filled in terms of talent. When, or even if, Radio Sport were to return in some fashion, many of those talents won’t be coming back either.
Some say that the decision had been a long time coming due to the network simply not making enough money for NZME to remain commercially viable, but that’s not a black mark against the journalists rather the model in which they were working.
The media business relies on advertising to pay its workers and advertising has all but dried up since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in New Zealand, just take a look at newspapers recently or tune into the television, the same goes for radio.
Then on Thursday, the shock of all shocks, Bauer Media announced its closure in New Zealand, bringing with it the death nail to some of the most beloved magazines that have served readers for multiple generations.
Shortly after, speculation was similar to the Radio Sport closure, that it wasn’t so much because of COVID-19 alone, but the implications of not being able to print magazines during the lockdown served as the perfect excuse to make a decision that had long been in the pipeline.
Today, the Government has been criticised by many in the media for not helping out Bauer Media with any financial assistance, but the Prime Minister herself says that the company refused to take wage subsidy allowances.
Whatever the real truth, the impact on workers at Bauer Media makes the losses Radio Sport sustained look tiny. Journalists, columnists and editors for magazines like The Listener, the Woman’s Day/Weekly, and Metro Magazine (just to name a few) are well into triple figures when you put the entire New Zealand branch of Bauer together.
So, with all this news and the hundreds of jobs lost to the business, where to from here to the New Zealand media?
Filling The Void, But At What Credible Value?
We’ve already seen many a social media pundit quickly try to turn the closure of media outlets into an opportunity to fill the void, so the answer about where to from here can be found in that, social media will give the opportunities for everyone to keep sports media going in different forms.
But despite that, quality journalism for sports and magazine is in grave peril right now.
COVID-19 and its impact on New Zealand will likely to be the single story for our media moving forward. For the established sports media, it’s a gigantic game of wait and see for the next while.
Until the sporting landscape gets somewhere close to being back to normal then there really isn’t a sustainable market for it, because the news will quickly dry up and this will expose the flaws of opportunistic tendencies by those who think they can replace and do better.
If anything, what COVID-19 should teach us is how important professional competitions really are to the business of sports journalism.
If you break it all down, the news isn’t just what happens on game day and the fallout from it, the news is really about the stories within the sport, player transfers and injuries, what franchises are doing or not doing, etc etc.
Don’t discount the importance of contacts that some of the sports journalists keep either.
Social media pundits can and will successfully be able to keep the sports conversation going within their respective bubbles but without legitimate access to sources and the knowledge of journalistic practices, the value of their respective mediums will be low.
If six years of doing this sports journalism thing (semi-professionally before transitioning into the mainstream) has taught me anything it’s that the story always matters, not the chatter.
You don’t have a story without the sport and the access to it, what you have is chatter.
That’s not journalism, it doesn’t require that hard work required to verify fact from opinion, the ability to be able to meet deadline multiple times per day, or to go back and re-write or re-produce content to meet the quality required for mainstream publication.
The biggest test that’s about to face the business on these shores is ensuring that when sports media does return to what it was before COVID-19, it maintains the talents it had to ensure the quality and substance remains.