Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 9. 9 May 1972
Not very, according to statistics in the April 10 issue of The New Zealand Listener. There are 26 major metropolitan and provincial newspapers producing one million copies a day, 700,000 of which are provided by eight metropolitan newspapers. Auckland consumes one third of this daily production. In 1966 there were 41 newspapers serving the Press Association of New Zealand. Now, it seems there are only 26. A big drop in six years, and an acceptable one if it had led to an improved quantity and quality of news. Public should be aware that a large metropolitan consumption results in the publication of news which might be appealing to an audience of mainly city people, but less appealing to provincial readers. This too could be tolerated if metropolitan newspaper did not penetrate so deeply into rural areas, providing little in the way of local service but skimming the cream of revenue for smaller newspapers who are having enough trouble making ends meet.
For some provincial papers this penetration has resulted in economic stagnation, lowering of tone, reduction in staffing and service, not only to the district but to the Press Association. If provincial papers go out of business, or are bought out only to be closed down overnight because of the nuisance they present to metropolitans, then there is a danger that competitive reporting will not only be reduced, but wiped out completely in some districts. The Public has always had Press serving as a watchdog on the spending of its money. There is a built-in safety device in having more than one reporter cover the same meeting, because of the post publication scrutiny of editors in opposing papers. A lazy or biased reporter is soon revealed and dealt with. It makes it easier for a "cagey" public body to woo one reporter into under or over "playing" an issue.
It makes it easier too for a chief reporter to not cover a meeting if he knows the opposition will not be there. It is agreed two reporters can never record the same event in the same way. Surely this is healthy and desirable. Rationalization in the industry should never touch news gathering. It is too personal.
If the proposed merger between the Wellington Publishing Company and Blundell Brothers takes place later this year (there seems to be little in the path of the proposition at this stage) then more than 700,000 of New Zealand's metropolitan newspapers will be processed by three giant combines and three independent companies. The combines are: New Zealand News Ltd with the Auckland Star (138,000 copies) and Christchurch Star (69,000); Wilson and Horton Ltd., with the New Zealand Herald (224,000) and the proposed Amalgamated Press with Evening Post (100,000) and The Dominion (77,000). The three independents are The Christchurch Press (69,000); The Otago Daily Times (41,000) and the Dunedin Evening Star (30,000). This means the metropolitans publish a total 608,000 a day against the surviving independent's 140,000.
The April 10 Listener suggests the United Publishing and Printing Co. Ltd., as the smallest of the five groups which dominate the North Island's newspaper production, "makes an obvious target for takeover by an expanding company to either the north or the south." It also states "none of the provincial dailies has a circulation greater than three per cent of the million total". Having purchased the smaller newspapers such as the Thames Star, the Levin Chronicle etc., the larger groups are not obliged to offer sustenance of fresh capital and they can phase them out after a decent interval. History shows this is usual.
In this election year it will be likely that some provincial areas and some politicians will note there is only one reporter taking notes for a decreasing number of newspapers serving an increasing population.