Kiwi Sabbatical: Bird Studies New Zealand Newspapers
New Zealand’s newspapers are thriving but face increased competition from online news sources, says Kenton Bird, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Media.
Bird spent the first six months of 2010 on sabbatical in New Zealand. He was a scholar in residence in the University of Waikato in Hamilton, visiting 10 of the country’s 21 daily newspapers and seven of 10 accredited journalism programs. He also gave two public lectures about U.S. media and foreign policy.
To Bird’s surprise, New Zealand’s newspapers have done a better job than their American counterparts in retaining readers and advertisers.
“The papers are bright, lively and fun to read,” he says. All of the regional dailies except one are traditional “broadsheets,” nearly four inches wider than the standard U.S. paper. Photography, sports coverage and feature writing are especially robust, he said.
New Zealand papers have benefited from stability of ownership; all but three of the dailies are owned by two Australian companies. Because there are no local television stations, newspapers are the primary sources of news and advertising for most of the country. And each paper has developed a strong identity with its city or region.
With the exception of the New Zealand Herald in Auckland, newspapers put comparatively little staff time or resources into their web sites. Broadband service is slow, expensive and unreliable, especially in rural parts of the country. But that will change as the government expands the nation’s fiber-optic network to increase the public’s access to the Internet.
“That gives newspapers at most three years to bring their web operations up to speed,” Bird says.
Meanwhile, journalism educators are struggling to find room in the curriculum for online reporting and web design. The newspaper industry association wields strong influence over what is taught in journalism degree and certificate programs, leaving the universities and polytechnic institutes little room for new courses.
Bird hopes his sabbatical will lead to closer ties between Idaho and New Zealand journalists. Already, Jeff Neems, an environmental reporter for the Waikato Times in Hamilton, has spent time in Moscow, meeting local journalists and speaking to UI classes. Bird hopes to attend a journalism educators’ meeting in New Zealand in late 2011.
The photograph (above) was taken outside a news stand at the Auckland International Airport. Bird says “News Travels” sums up his New Zealand experience. He posted additional observations about New Zealand media on his blog: www.birds-words.blogspot.com