Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 10. 1965.
Towards A Critical Evauation — Nz Daily Press
Towards A Critical Evauation
Nz Daily Press
Much is said and written about the Daily Press, and the opinions expressed vary greatly. Sir Winston Churchill described the British Press as "faithful and vigilant," whilst Aneurin Bevan described it as the most prostituted in the world.
How is the New Zealand Daily Press to be described? My purpose is to stimulate thought and criticism and to give a few of my own opinions on the role of the Press.
The first concept to be grasped in any discussion on the Press is that newspapers are commercial ventures which may succeed or fail, follow new trends or stagnate, take advantage of or fall prey to the whims of the public. People tend to think of papers as serving the public, as in fact they do to a certain degree, but the first responsibility of managing directors and editors is to their shareholders. It is incidental that the best method of fulfilling this responsibility is to serve the public.
By their very nature as commercial undertakings it is inevitable that if papers fail to show a profit, or at least meet costs, they will have to close down or sell out.
The main sources of income are from advertising and circulation. The former, the more lucrative of the two sources, is dependent on the latter. And circulation is dependant on public support and interest. It is therefore evident that a newspaper must, to a great extent, give its readers what they want so as to maintain its circulation figures. This may lead to unsavoury practices in discovering and presenting stories.
Some 45 per cent of New Zealand voters supported the Labour Party in the 1963 General Election. Only one of our 41 daily newspapers proclaims itself to be a Labour paper.
Observers, such as Dr. Austin Mitchell, support the view that the Grey River Argus is in fact the only daily in New Zealand that is not in sympathy with the National Party. But these papers maintain relatively constant or increasing circulations whichever way an election goes.
The 1935 election is the most outstanding case in point.
This helps show that reporters are all different. New Zealand Press Association reports are coloured by individual reporters' political, social, economic and educational biasses. There will be the reporter's selection bias, and further selection will come when the reports reach different newspaper offices.
Mr. Cleveland, of this university, estimates that some one million words are sent over the wires each day and of these only 60 per cent will be printed.
NZPA is a co-operative news agency which gathers and disseminates news to its members. It subscribes to major world news agencies and has a number of correspondents overseas as well. Membership is entirely voluntary and members control the form, policies, and activities of the association.
The Press Association does not prevent individual papers from subscribing to and commissioning special photographs and feature articles. As a result some 14 papers subscribe to the South Pacific News Agency. Others commission or buy special articles from individual commentators. A restriction is placed on privately commissioned cable and radio stories; these may be obtained only with the association's assent and must be made available to all members.
The methods by which those stories are handled should be overhauled. The initiative of individual papers should not be restricted but protected. During the Cuban crisis the Levin Chronicle telephoned Mr. Khrushchev and wrote a special story. As well as incurring a large toll bill the Chronicle was fined by NZPA. It is perhaps indicative of the lack of Press interest in gaining special news stories that the rules have never been modified.
Why does the Press Association impose restrictions on cable and radio stories from overseas? One reason is that the metropolitan papers, which can afford extra expensive services, are prevented from scoring over the smaller local papers. The larger papers could well destroy the small local dailies if they made a determined effort to make the small papers uneconomic propositions.
The table below shows the circulation figures for the daily news papers in the Wellington statistical district:
Local [unclear: Ilies]
|Wanganui||Wanganui [unclear: Ch]||11,013 (audited)|
|Wanganui [unclear: he]||9,386 (audited)|
|Palmerston North||Manawatu [unclear: E Standard]||20,740 (audited)|
|Masterton||Wairarapa [unclear: T Age]||7,503 (audited)|
|Levin||The Chronicle||3,790 (audited)|
|Wellington||The Dominion||94,000 (estimated)|
|The Evening||98,000 (estimated)|
It seems clear from this table that the smaller papers in this area, such as the Levin Chronicle could be pushed out. It would be a great loss for the local communities, for in a country such [unclear: a] ours we cannot afford to lose the local paper.
New Zealand has so many small self-contained geographical unit with their various unique need that it is very questionable [unclear: whe ther] large monopolistic paper would serve these small areas [unclear: a] well as the local paper does. Small papers, it is true, cannot provide as good a general news coverage as the bigger papers, but they [unclear: de] give a more comprehensive cover age to local news than would larger papers.
In country districts this is important. Is not NZPA the only satisfactory answer to the problem of providing both general and local news to those who wish to read both?
Advertisers that run nations campaigns would not mind paying extra for greater penetration but the Levin advertiser would not be so happy. He now pays 8/- [unclear: pe olumn] page 7 inch for classified and [unclear: sual] display advertising and [unclear: ould] have to pay over £1 for [unclear: e] same advertisement just [unclear: ecause] Wellingtonians might [unclear: arn] that he had lost his poodle. [unclear: imilarly] many Wellington adversers would gain no extra profits [unclear: st] because a few Levin readers and boosted the circulation figures.
The local paper does serve a purpose: some might describe it [unclear: s] limited. others as essential. [unclear: ZPA] protects the smaller enterprises on the one hand, and on the [unclear: ther] limits competitive reportage.
Dean E. W. Barrett, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University. New York, describes the New Zealand press as at times appearing "to lack thoroughness, penetration and the initiative to look beneath surface announcements," He may well be correct, but this sort of Press is preferable to one such as the Australian or American where there is extreme competition.
An example of the lack of discretion which may result from much competition is provided by a Chicago paper which, during the [unclear: Cuban] crisis, obtained and published information vital to national security.
We should be thankful that we are spared the results of this type of competition. Similarly we are spared the type of competition which in Britain leads to complaints of intrusion into private [unclear: ives]. Few authenticated cases of such intrusion are reported in New Zealand. We cannot, as in Britain, clearly tell whether a dally is popular or not. There is no clear differentiation between papers as there is between the Times or Guardian as opposed to the Daily Mirror or Daily Express.
What is our Daily Press like? On the whole it appears to be conservative in outlook. There is no truly radical daily. Dean E. W. Barrett, quoted above, says that we have a Press "that appears to be decent, respectful and reasonably responsible."
Observers, Dean Barrett among them, trace the faults of New Zealand Journalism back to "the paucity of thoroughly educated and disciplined minds within journalism." Theories abound on the way to improve the situation. There seems to be a consensus of informed opinion that some form of training scheme should be launched.
For a time there was a Diploma of Journalism course available which consisted of five arts units with the addition of two units on the Theory and Practice of Journalism. There was little in these practical units that could not have been learned by joining a good newspaper office as a cadet reporter.
The Press could set up a national scheme, but this would be expensive. The Universities have shown little interest in making a new improved diploma or postgraduate course available.
The Press as a profession is interested in such a course but it is so hard to obtain sufficient staff that they cannot even set a minimum educational standard such as University Entrance. A provincial editor informs me that it is hard enough to obtain staff without imposing such a standard, however desirable that standard may be. It is, then, a matter of being satisfied with an uninspired coverage of events, as an alternative to a few good reports without a complete general coverage.
It has been suggested by Mr. Cleveland that there is a bias against women as journalists. A temporary solution to the staff problem could be to accept more women journalists. There is no reason why women should not make just as good journalists as men do.
Further aggravating the situation is the drain of Press journalists to the NZBC News Service and now to the Sunday Press. This is adversely affecting the labour problem, but the advent of television has brought another more important problem. That is the presentation of news.
Television can present news visually. The newspapers must present the background articles and give the fuller details which television cannot do. However, television has not caused a drop in the total daily newspapers' circulation which is now estimated to be over 1,034,000.
Change will come. It is impossible to satisfy everyone as someone is sure to complain that a newspaper is being too partial to one faction or, conversely, too impartial. We have only a mediocre Press today. Unless changes take place today's standard will be even more unacceptable a few years hence. The Press must have better educated journalists, must improve its communications network and must provide more background articles.
In the light of the difficulties mentioned it is apparent that this will be no easy task. The Press must be more critical of itself, of the sources of news and of the information it prints. Then we may be able to praise it as a "faithful and vigilant Press."