NZ Media Profile: Jock Anderson on Fairfax New Zealand

• A veteran journalist has questioned the value of Fairfax-owned Stuff strategy

A veteran journalist and media identity has questioned the value of Fairfax-owned Stuff strategy using hubs to share content among their papers.

Jock Anderson recently completed a three-month stint as editor of the Timaru Herald, in the South Island. He speaks highly of New Zealand management and its attempts to make sense of the Australia management rationale.

However, he told Mediaweek the Australian approach is flawed.

It’s a personal view from a high-profile journalist who learned his craft in provincial journalism more than 50 years ago.

He made a name for himself in the Big Smoke and won numerous journalism awards, and returned to his roots.

The good news, Anderson says, is that, despite staff having been “kicked in the guts with cuts”, inexperienced young reporters were still keen.

Senior reporters were working long hours to maintain the online presence and provide leadership.

However, Fairfax decisions like withdrawal of local sports staff were “suicidal” in sports-mad New Zealand. Now aged 71, and still freelancing, Anderson has come to represent “old school” journalist values.

He says Australian ownership is at the heart of the problems faced by many local papers.

“My experience, having worked briefly for Stuff as acting editor of the Timaru Herald, was that the influence from on high has a devastating effect on journalism and how a local newspaper behaves, he says. The hubbing structure imposed from Australia was the problem.

“In the case of Stuff, the content of all papers is dictated from Wellington.

“There was no end of telephone conferences for people all over the countryside putting in their tuppence worth about what was a great story – some of which I thought were rubbish. Inevitably someone in Australia is making editorial decisions.

“Local content is gradually squeezed out.

“I would much rather have young people on the street finding local stories about local people.

“No matter where you are in New Zealand you will get the same national news sports and entertainment.

“To me that is just not good enough. It is cheap and simple but it actively goes against good journalism.”

Anderson said other independent papers were showing Fairfax owners the way.

The Otago Daily Times and Ashburton Guardian in neighbouring cities were focused locally.

“They were doing well both in their journalism, and in their financial returns.”

The appraisal is typically blunt from Anderson, who admits he likes to call a spade a spade.

He still has roles as a panellist in radio current affairs, and produces a weekly TV show, Eye To Eye With Willie Jackson.

Beyond the provinces, Anderson raises questions about whether young journalists are fully aware of their roles.

He says part of the problem for young journalists now was that they did not speak to members of the public.

Some were scared of talking to older people.

Anderson’s own foundation in journalism is covering justice and crime and harks back to his early days as court reporter for the top-selling tabloid weekly, The NZ Truth.

He worked there 17 years from 1970 to 1988.

A decade later, at the National Business Review, he chronicled the behind-the-scenes goings-on in lawyers’ and judges’ chambers in his satirical legal column Caseload.

He counts Queens Counsels and High Court judges amongst his friends.

“Court reporting today is appalling – it’s very much once over lightly and a lot of the interesting and juicy court stuff is ignored,” he said.

From 1992 to 1996 at Aoraki Polytechnic he was the joint coordinator of newspaper journalism.

Former pupils include Sinead Boucher – now chief executive of Stuff – and Mark Stevens head of editorial, and also the current editors of Stuff newspapers The Southland Times and The Waikato Times.

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