What might an NZME-Fairfax merger mean for your PR?

The media world is ablaze with the news that NZME and Fairfax are discussing a possible merger that could see one organisation publishing a great deal of New Zealand's news.

Much of the news focus to date has been on the potentially affected newspaper titles – such as the NZ Herald, Dominion Post, The Press and many others – but as NZME and Fairfax also control many news outlets online and on the airwaves, the impacts of a merger would travel far more widely.

Unsurprisingly, the companies have been keen to say that they are complementary, and that in a click-hungry world a merger would enable them to enhance what they offer to their advertisers and to us consumers.

Fewer journalists?

However, the NZ Herald itself said in a recent article that the merger "could end decades of competition and result in hundreds of job losses." Understandably, the unions have voiced concern. Media commentators have also been vocal about the potential reduction in the range and diversity of viewpoints that could ensue, as put in the same NZ Herald article as "readers from Auckland to Invercargill would end up reading many of the same stories on politics, business and sports".

So, what might it mean for companies looking to interact with media?

It can sometimes seem that many media organisations are seeking to become very similar beasts, regardless of their individual histories. In a desperate effort to capture our (consumer) interest and thus the advertisers who want to talk to us, they are working to integrate their previously distinct print, radio, online and televised / visual content.

As individual organisations they are certainly working hard right now to diversify their offerings, even creating new platforms such as the NZ Herald's Focus's daily online 'TV' broadcasts. You only have to see NZME's new TV studio, which sits physically and very visibly on the office floor between the NZ Herald news desk and Newstalk ZB's studio, to understand how moving pictures are a critical part of the NZME journey ahead.

A stronger multi-channel opportunity?

Through this lens, an NZME-Fairfax merger may put more resource into strengthening and driving multi-channel approaches and offerings. That has to be good for consumers of media, and of course for advertisers.

But, if the speculated job losses do come about, what does that mean for anyone looking to interact with a variety of media to earn media coverage?

On one hand, a powerful single media organisation controlling multiple outlets and channels would in theory offer an equally powerful opportunity to spread your message nationwide and reach a huge proportion of the population. It could also mean that organisations seeking media coverage might achieve hitherto unheard-of results through a single phone call.

A more risk-averse environment?

On the other hand, it could well reduce the variety and options available to earn coverage, and it might also create a more risk-averse media environment. Already the click is the beloved measure of editors who thirst to know: Who is coming to us for their stories? What are they viewing? How can we keep them here? It must be a major temptation to go for a globally-attractive click bait approach over solid, but much lower click-rate, news, particularly business news. It is therefore to the great credit of media organisations that to date the click bait hasn't overwhelmed news, but who's to say that it won't still happen?

And, what if the all-powerful, multi-headed media beast isn't into your story? What if your story doesn't fit within current editorial controls? Then your options will be far more limited than in the past.

What about self-publishing?

And advertisers have to wonder about how reduced media competition is going to affect media advertising rates, both on the page and per-click costs. At a time when it has never been easier to put a view out into the world via company websites, blogs (like this?) - as well as the huge range of social media platforms that exist – businesses and brands have a massive opportunity to self-publish more of their own content and become brand journalists.

Another question: how might a mega-merger affect regional and local reporting? In an era when we all carry our newspaper in our pockets, will the resource be available to keep local titles going? We have to hope so.

Variety and breadth will always be important

Something else entirely to think about: how will the likes of Mediaworks, TVNZ and Radio New Zealand compete with a merged media entity of this size? We have already seen Newshub and the Paul Henry show take a multi-platform broadcast approach, so they will need to be clear about their points of difference in order to succeed. The variety and choice that they will continue to provide will be essential as time nudges on.

So, options and threats. More questions than answers…

…and the law of unintended consequences

The frighteningly-titled Newspaper Death Watch, whose self-proclaimed role is in 'Chronicling the Decline of Newspapers and the Rebirth of Journalism', points to one potential direction. A merger of this sort that is proposed could well spawn a rash of new, niche, high quality online media platforms unencumbered by history, size, legacy and cost.

Staffed by trained journalists and dedicated to what seems to be becoming increasingly niche subject matter – such as business or politics – we could yet see a new dawn of great media analysis and insightful coverage of topics that might not thrive elsewhere.

At least I hope we do. And let's hope a merger might continue to create more options and more channels for readers of news, insight and analysis.

We need great and varied journalism more than ever.


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