NZ’s rapidly changing Fourth Estate

One of the areas of work that Shine is particularly known for is working with the media.


We’ve even won awards for it, and we’ve always had at least two or three ex-journalists on the team at any one time – we still do today.


But regardless of whether our first career was as a journalist or not, we are all deeply passionate about New Zealand’s media, the important job it does in a crisis, the critical role it plays in democracy, and the place it has in local communities.


So, it won’t come as any surprise that we are genuinely gutted about the recent tsunami of media changes – and the potential impact on our society.


The media has long been known as the Fourth Estate. In fact, the term stems back to medieval times, referencing the media’s role in holding the nobility, clergy and community to account. Six hundred years later, in today’s age of social media, mis- and dis-information and ‘fake news’, the role of the media has never been more important.


Our Shine team makes sure we are fully across the latest media developments, but the true scale and pace of the changes in the landscape in the past six months were really hammered home recently when we delivered a media training workshop for a client.


When it comes to putting someone up for a media interview – regardless of whether it’s a positive or negative news angle – it’s critical for the interviewee to not only know their subject and messages, but also to understand how the media works, so they can do the best possible job, for themselves and their organisation, and for the journalist.


As a result, our media training sessions have three key sections – understanding the media landscape in Aotearoa; knowing what makes news; and then the nuts and bolts of actually preparing for and doing an interview.


In updating our notes ahead of this session, I found myself deleting line upon line of media outlets, including broadcast and print. While the slashes at TVNZ and the closure of Newshub are well known, there are dozens of other changes, mergers and closures that have not made the 6pm news.


These include everything from the sale of SunMedia in Western Bay of Plenty to NZME; the purchase of Wairarapa Times Age by Stuff; the liquidation of Auckland Times’ news portfolio; and the shrinking pages of the Rotorua Daily Post and the Bay of Plenty Times, now largely delivered by one newsroom with a declining number of journalists.


The impact on democracy from media cuts at a national level have been well canvassed – although not yet widely understood by the general public – but it is the loss of a robust Fourth Estate at a local level that may have the biggest local impact on communities.


Traditionally, it is our local journalists in towns and regions across the motu who have held our councils, hospitals and community organisations to account, while also championing local causes, successful local businesses, and schools who have beaten the odds.


These are the stories that are quickly being lost. In most cases, they are already gone and have been for some time.


While some would say that plays into the hands of those charged with helping their clients manage bad news, I would just as quickly disagree.


Society needs an active, diligent, independent Fourth Estate – in every country town, regional city and big centre, to not just hold our elected officials to account, but to monitor business and report on bad news as well.


We genuinely welcome scrutiny, including on our clients and their operations. It isn’t our job to try to sweep bad news under the carpet. It is our job to support organisations to tell a true story to the local community – regardless of whether that is good or bad.


Depending on the circumstance, we strongly advise our client to say sorry and demonstrate how they’re committed to doing better; in others, it’s about clearing up misinformation.


Without an effective, functioning local media, none of those things can happen. And that will be the real loss to society.


But you can help. Subscribe to online news outlets like Stuff, Newsroom, and The Spinoff, spend your advertising dollar on New Zealand-owned media organisations – not global social media giants – and where you can, keep watching, reading and listening to news in its traditional formats, rather than dipping in and out of online on demand.


Journalism literally needs you – and society does too.