(File photo)
(File photo)

The BulletinJune 13, 2019

The Bulletin: Has the NZ Herald paywall actually worked?

(File photo)
(File photo)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: NZ Herald digital subscriber numbers reach first major milestone, Forest and Bird drop two major stories, and maternity wards lacking overnight cover.

An exciting story broke yesterday for those who follow news about news. The NZ Herald put this one outside the paywall – releasing that the company had garnered 10,000 digital subscriptions in just six weeks. For context, that was the number they were going for in the first year. The digital subscriptions apply to all of NZME’s papers, so it’s potentially not just readers of the NZ Herald, but also Hawke’s Bay Today, the Whanganui Chronicle and so on. It is seen as a long term project, and this initial milestone will be heartening for the organisation.

With NZME being the biggest local media company to date trying to monetise their digital content, it’s a big success story not just for the company, but the industry as a whole. As our editor Toby Manhire wrote at the time it was brought in, “the success or failure of the Herald paywall is a very big deal for New Zealand journalism – for the craft and the business alike.” So is this unmitigated good news? Not quite – the glowing top half of the Herald’s story was followed by some slightly more troubling news on the financial front.

For that part of the story, we’ll head to the NBR (paywalled) who were far more critical of their rival. The share price performance of NZME has been pretty poor, and they haven’t been paying out dividends. Analysis from the site Simply Wall St from March reported a 44% decline in earnings per share, and a 27% decline in share price over the year to date. The share price has slumped slightly further since then too. Advertising pressures continue for the company, which is hurting revenue.

Furthermore, the NBR story really got stuck into perceptions of quality around the Herald. Business and politics stories have been trumpeted as a major reason to sign up for a subscription. But the NBR reported very different comments from shareholders, including one fellow who accused the Herald’s business section of numerous inaccuracies in how they report on the shareholder meetings of other companies. They’re criticisms to perhaps take with a slight pinch of salt, with both organisations competing in the same market for business subscribers.

Finally, I want to know what you think of the paywall so far, as a group of people engaged with news. How have you found the experience of going to the Herald website without a subscription? Have you instinctively stopped going there or clicking on Herald stories if you don’t have a subscription, regardless of whether they’re actually paywalled? And for those of you who do have one, are you getting your money’s worth? Email me – thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz.

Forest and Bird says nitrate pollution in Canterbury’s water is getting worse, reports Radio NZ this morning. The group created a risk map from Council data, and say it shows an increasing number of private wells have higher nitrate levels than what is safe. With that comes environmental and human health risks. High nitrate levels are expected to get worse before they get better, because there is a decade-long lag time between cow urine coming out, and nitrates turning up in the drinking water. Dairy cow numbers around Canterbury have soared up to 1.3 million.

Speaking of Forest and Bird, they got a different story on Radio NZ yesterday too. This one is about letters sent by fishing companies threatening legal action against the government over proposed seabed protections. In particular, they were worried about a rule “which requires trawlers to stop fishing in an area if they pull up too many corals, sponges and other long-lived ocean life.” Sure, the oceans might be dying, and these sorts of practices speed that up, but on the other hand fishing company Talleys says conservation regulations have become increasingly onerous.

Maternity wards across the country are almost entirely lacking senior doctors and consultants on overnight shifts, reports the NZ Herald (paywalled.) In cases of complications, it can mean delays in how quickly specialists can get in to assist midwives, raising concerns about the welfare of mothers and babies. Then again, it’s really just one of the many shortfalls affecting maternity care in New Zealand at the moment – for an example of this, have a read of Crux’s story about a mother who gave birth in her midwife’s office in Wanaka, because there weren’t any other facilities nearby.

Landlords have pretty much run out of time to get their properties properly insulated, reports The Spinoff. The deadline for new standards is July 1, and the insulation industry is at total capacity. MBIE have declared that those landlords who have been too slow won’t get let off the hook if a complaint comes in, as that would be unfair to landlords who took proactive measures.

The government is describing their billion dollar Hercules Air Force upgrade as vital for climate change responses, reports One News. Defence minister Ron Mark says the planes are vital tools for the NZDF, as they can efficiently carry large quantities of humanitarian supplies or personnel where they’re needed. While the Greens criticised spending money on war-making capabilities for the planes, Politik reports their spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman was full of praise for the peace and disaster-relief capabilities they’d have. She also applauded Ron Mark’s increased focus on climate change.

Tourism numbers from China aren’t meeting the hopes of operators, in what was meant to be a banner year, reports the NZ Herald. It’s being put down to a few factors, many of which are basically outside of this country’s control. Among them is an economic downturn in China which is drying up discretionary spending, and the possibility that New Zealand just isn’t quite so fashionable a destination any more. Either way, it is putting operators catering to that market under pressure, and some may not stay afloat.

A meeting involving some heavy hitters trying to hash out the concerns over the Waiheke Ferry will be held next week, reports Stuff. Fullers boss Mike Horne will sit around a table with mayor Phil Goff, Cr Chris Darby and former Waitākere mayor Bob Harvey, over concerns involving cancelled sailings and high prices. Fullers has a monopoly on the service, so it means disgruntled residents have little option but to lump it if things go wrong.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Andrew Geddis writes about an extraordinary case relating to NZ-China relations, by which a court here has decided their legal system is so flawed not even a murder suspect should be sent back. Alex Casey writes about new rules that will allow some pets on trains in Auckland. A brand new episode of On the Rag is out, about the ‘flaming cesspit’ of the internet.

Also, here’s a couple of pieces relevant to discussions here over the last few days. Josie Adams writes about the laws that prevent genuinely impactful actions on climate change. And Green MP Gareth Hughes writes about the history of these laws, and hints at RMA amendments that his party wants made.

Today’s feature is one that really struck a chord with me, as someone who has always enjoyed art but never remotely understood the intellectual world around it. It’s on the Pantograph Punch, and is a brutal takedown of the style of so much art writing, which is overly complicated and obscures, rather than reveals what is actually being said. And it just doesn’t have to be like that either – in fact, the world of art could be made less mysterious and forbidding if the writing around it was a bit better. Here’s an excerpt:

When I was at art school, the terms of art theory buzzed around like a joint at a house party. We  could never just ‘like’ a painting, we pined over affect, rigid with desire at the table of Deleuze and Guattari. The sublime, we would whisper into a breath of smoke as Edmund Burke’s ghost hovered over our bodies. We’d take a deep inhale of dusty air-conditioned oxygen and exhale Acconci into the poorly painted walls. In that moment we were so acutely aware of the spatiotemporal logistics between public and private it was like the walls weren’t even visible, just concepts stapled to a silhouette. We didn’t ‘speak’ so much as engage in dialectics. The spaces between our desks weren’t in-betweens: they were resonant markers of transitory liminality; sites of serendipitous interaction; seminal Happenings affixed in symbiotic relations.

We consumed a choir of borrowed language and pressed our mouths into the jargon that made us feel legitimate. Nobody understood us, and that was the intention.

Codes that get Sport NZ money have been warned that without gender equity on their boards by 2021, funding will be “compromised.” The report on Stuff shows an increased assertiveness from the national body around how sports are governed. Among the sports that could be in trouble – a little old code called rugby, which has just one woman on their board.

From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.

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