Stephanie Bennett: The changing face of the media

I was 15 when I first came into contact with a real-life journalist.

It was John Campbell.

I had set my sights on a career in journalism a couple years earlier and my dad, always keen to support my interests, organised a meeting.

I was completely star-struck and hung off every word he said, vowing to read the Joan Didion essays he recommended and enrol in the Bachelor of Communications degree at AUT. (I still have the scrap piece of paper he scribbled on tucked away in a drawer).

Fast-forward six years and I found myself fresh out of university, having taken John’s advice, and the newest cub reporter at the Rotorua Daily Post.

It was a fast-paced, sink or swim regional newsroom and I was plunged into the deep end. But I loved it and was eager to take on everything thrown at me.

In those days, there were print deadlines for the newspaper, but the website was still in its infancy; a secondary product that was updated once a day with a select few articles.

The years that followed would see this rapidly change as the public’s demand for news 24/7 grew. This was exacerbated by social media, where photos taken by bystanders of a fender bender made it on to newsfeeds before police were on the scene.

Wanting to meet the needs of the public, media websites grew in prominence and became a central focus for newsrooms across the country.

With this new focus, media organisations also began to consolidate their products, ensuring better content sharing and cohesion across the brand.

As we watched newsrooms downsize, access to these additional resources and content ensured the survival of smaller, regional outfits which are valued by the communities they serve but would struggle to stay afloat on their own.

Impacts of COVID-19

Following the COVID-19 lockdown, we saw significant changes to the way newsrooms operated. Like many industries, it became clear remote working was not only possible for newsrooms but could greatly benefit staff wellbeing by allowing more flexibility and better working conditions.

In an industry that can be quite mentally and emotionally taxing, this new level of flexibility can help nurture and retain staff.

Now, newsrooms have people regularly working from home, dialling in to meetings over Zoom and flexing their hours.

Shifting Pay Model

Perhaps the most significant change -– and most controversial -– in the past couple of years has been the shifting pay model.

It’s no secret traditional print media is declining but with more syndicated content and an online presence, the reach of newspapers is bigger than ever before.

Sadly, this doesn’t immediately equate to dollars in pockets and while the press serves a vital purpose in society, it is still a business that needs revenue to pay its bills and its staff’s wages.

Different organisations are exploring new ways to do this. Some have opted for donation models, while others have adopted paywalls.

This has been a hard pill for some to swallow. After nearly 20 years of getting free news on the internet, people have forgotten that before that, they always had to pay for their news.

Quality to Quantity

But one of the biggest benefits to adopting paywalls is the shift from quantity to quality.

When I first started working as a journalist, I would pump out four or five stories a day. They would typically be 250 and 400 words and would contain one or two sources.

Before I left, it wasn’t uncommon for journalists to focus on just one story a day, but that story would have multiple photos, a video, a graphic, several sources and be 600 to 800 words long.

You will still see the shorter breaking news stories, or the stories born from social media posts because there is demand for them, but the focus on good quality journalism is bolstered, in part, by subscription revenue.

All these changes, coupled with countless small ones, in just seven years, highlights how fast changing the media environment is.

The newsroom John Campbell was working in when I met him 13 years ago was starkly different to the one I left two months ago and I can say with confidence the newsrooms in a year will evolve just as much.

But the one thing that won’t change is how dedicated and hardworking journalists are and how, above all, they do what they do to serve and support the communities they live in.