Chapter 2 - Online media in New Zealand
The ‘news’ publishing spectrum
1. New Zealand’s mainstream media on the web
Arguably the most striking feature of the mainstream media’s web presence is the extent to which the boundaries which formerly separated print, television and broadcasting have been dissolved. In adapting to the web environment, mainstream media companies are increasingly presenting their users with a common, rich, mixture of text and audio-visual content.
New Zealand’s major print and television broadcasting media companies, APN News & Media, Fairfax Media New Zealand, Television New Zealand, and TV3, are each grappling with the implications of 24 hour, seven-day-a-week publishing.19 Where once newspapers and television were able to marshal their reporting resources around set broadcasting and printing schedules, now the internet enables – and requires – a constant supply of breaking and updated news. Newspaper publishers, with their long lead times between deadlines and distribution had, in the past, specialised in generating original news and analysis: now they must also compete head to head with broadcasters, including social media, in the live or spot news market.
An extension of this uncoupling of content from scheduled broadcasting or publication times is the shift towards “demand-driven” content. Increasingly radio and television broadcasters are making both news and entertainment available on their websites for access at the time of a user’s choosing. Alongside programmes which have been previously broadcast, there is also a growing menu of web-only content including extended “raw” interviews and video clips.
Most are also responding to the web’s evolving norms including the expectation that users will be able to comment on news stories and contribute to the reporting of live news events as they unfold.
In the following section we describe the online presence of mainstream media companies and discuss some of the important ways in which they differ from their traditional mediums; print, television and radio.
Print media on the web
Over the past decade New Zealand’s major newspaper companies, APN News & Media, (publishers of The New Zealand Herald, the Herald on Sunday and a stable of regional newspapers) and Fairfax Media New Zealand (The Dominion Post, The Press, the Waikato Times, the Sunday Star-Times and regional papers) have established themselves as the country’s dominant news websites.
Between them, Fairfax’s stuff.co.nz and APN’s nzherald.co.nz attracted, on average, over 388,000 unique browsers to their general news web pages each day in September 2011.20 Global digital measurement and marketing company comScore reported that in May 2011 these two news websites were both reaching about two thirds of the potential online audience.21
Independent publisher, Allied Press, publishers of the Otago Daily Times, has a more limited online presence, ranking seventh in Nielsen’s September 2011 report.22 These sites, along with the smaller weekly business newspaper, the National Business Review (NBR), have formed the basis of our analysis of newspaper online presence.
Online newspapers differ significantly from their print or mainstream presence. Fairfax’s web-only brand, Stuff, provides a national breaking news service and also aggregates content from the company’s extensive network of newspapers. The site has its own editor and is able to draw on the resources of the newspapers’ newsrooms.
APN’s website, nzherald, also operates independently from the masthead under a separate editor and company structure but is able to draw on the company’s newsroom resources. Both companies place a high premium on breaking news on their websites and the organisation of their newsrooms increasingly reflects this imperative to be first to publish on-line.
The Otago Daily Times’ online edition replicates approximately 90 per cent of the stories published in the daily print edition, the prominence of stories on the site mirroring their prominence in the paper. Breaking news is posted on the site throughout the day while exclusive content is often held back for the next day’s print edition.
The National Business Review online also breaks news on its websites and produces content that is distinct from its print publication. Premium content is reserved behind a pay-wall for digital subscribers.
As well as breaking news, the APN and Fairfax websites differ significantly from their print partners in a number of important respects. Audio-visual content, including advertising, plays an increasingly important role on the sites. News videos produced in-house are sometimes preceded by commercial advertising segments.
Both sites also encourage users to contribute by submitting photographs and video clips of live news events. The Otago Daily Times offers a unique function entitled “your news” that allows “local citizen journalists” to submit their own news and photos for online publication.
All of these sites invite some form of user interactivity, including the facility to comment on blogs and a selection of news stories. Unlike the print publications, which require contributors to the letters columns to provide their full names and addresses, the websites allow readers to comment on stories using a pseudonym. However sites require those commenting to register using their names and in the case of the Otago Daily Times, physical address and phone number.
Increasingly too these traditional publishers are embracing social media both as a promotional tool, driving traffic to their websites, and as a reporting resource. Most can be “followed” on Twitter and “liked” on Facebook. Journalists, or automated feeds, may “tweet” breaking news or headlines together with links to the story on the company’s website.
The web 2.0 zeitgeist is also reflected in the facility for readers to share content through a variety of channels including email, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Alongside the major newspapers, a number of current affairs magazines have developed web presences offering live news and online-only content. For example, APN News & Media owned weekly, The Listener, now offers readers a distinct web offering, including web-only content, news blogs and updated news stories, drawing on the New Zealand Herald for the latter. Ian Wishart, publisher of Investigate has also developed a website complementing his magazine and other print publications and including news links to multiple overseas and local online news and current affairs sites. Tangible Media, publishers of idealog magazine have also developed multi-media websites to complement their print products.
Television on the web
Like print companies, traditional television broadcasters face significant challenges adapting to the economic, technological and cultural changes of the internet and web. And like print publishers, they are attempting to reposition themselves as “multi-media” companies capable of using a variety of different channels to reach their audiences/users.23
As part of this strategy both TVNZ and TV3 have developed websites offering a diverse range of content and services.24 Both sites provide breaking news, television programme guides, sports and entertainment. Māori Television and Sky’s websites are designed to provide portals to the channels and their services/programmes but neither attempt to provide a continuous general news site.
TVNZ and TV3’s websites differ significantly from their mainstream presence. The websites provide a mixture of videos (including live media streams for major news stories), text and photographs. The sites publish news stories and hourly breaking news updates. They both generate and publish videos and stories from their newsrooms and also aggregate content produced by other media organisations, attributing accordingly.
For news organisations accustomed to broadcasting at scheduled times, accessing a continuous news feed and comprehensive coverage range has been a critical ingredient in building web audiences. Up until 2011 both major broadcasters relied to some extent on commercial arrangements with the independent news wire service, the New Zealand Press Association (NZPA) to help meet the challenge of 24 hour news cover. This 131-year-old news co-operative, jointly owned by Fairfax, APN and the five remaining independent newspapers had provided a core news wire and picture service to its own members’ newspapers, as well as selling content to third parties such as TVNZ and MediaWorks.25 However in August 2011 NZPA closed, following the decision by Fairfax New Zealand to withdraw funding from the agency.26
In the wake of NZPA’s demise both Fairfax New Zealand and APN News & Media moved to establish their own network news services, FNZN and APNZ respectively. APNZ is based around a copy sharing arrangement between 50 subscribing newspapers, including APN’s own newspapers and a handful of independent titles including the Otago Daily Times. Fairfax’s new wire service, Fairfax New Zealand News (FNZN) augmented its existing group copy sharing model, Wirestream, drawing on its masthead newsrooms and its national political, sport and business bureaus. Supplementing these two corporate schemes, the Australian news agency AAP (jointly owned by Fairfax and News Limited) has boosted its New Zealand presence, setting up NZ Newswire (NZN).
The impact of NZPA’s withdrawal and the establishment of these new services can already be seen on the television websites, with TVNZ attributing news content to a range of sources including Fairfax, NZN, BusinessDesk, Newstalk ZB, and Reuters. TV3 credits include NZN, AP and RadioLIVE.
A significant feature unique to the online presence of television stations is that users decide what to view and the order in which to view it. For example both sites provide an on-demand function whereby users can catch up on missed programmes.
These sites also allow for increased user interaction, albeit to different degrees. TVNZ does not allow comments on its news content but does provide a “community” message board in respect of its on-demand television material. This community forum allows registered users to post comments on the community message boards. TV3, on the other hand, allows users to post comments on all news stories and, like TVNZ, users can participate in a community message board relating to the “on-demand” material.
TVNZ and TV3 also utilise social media platforms as a way of promoting both news and entertainment content.
For example in the immediate aftermath of the November 2010 Pike River mine explosion on the South Island’s West Coast, TV3 established a “Supporting the Pike River Miners” Facebook page which served as a vehicle for the expression of public grief while also allowing the company to monitor community sentiment and views about the unfolding story.
Both broadcasters encourage users to share articles and to follow the sites, as well as individual shows, on Facebook and Twitter.
In March 2011 in an experimental move TVNZ launched a new interactive channel called “U”, aimed at the 15 – 25 demographic and featuring a block of content driven by a live Facebook application.
Radio on the web
Radio broadcasters are also diversifying and expanding their services in response to the challenges and opportunities offered by the web. Both the public service broadcaster Radio New Zealand, and commercial broadcaster Newstalk ZB (part owned by APN News & Media) use their websites to provide supplementary material and to facilitate on-demand access to previously broadcast content.27 For example, Radio New Zealand has developed a multi-layered web offering including specialist sections expanding on broadcast programmes. It also provides listeners with a number of ways in which to download and live stream its audio material. This on-demand facility clearly differentiates the site from its mainstream or traditional presence.
Another commonality is that these sites supplement their audio content with text and photographs and short audio-visual clips. Listeners can follow live broadcasts and also read short text news updates carried on the websites.
Newstalk ZB is a highly interactive site which displays “current topics” on the home page and invites participation by way of comments. It also invites users to “tell us what you think” for use on the talkback radio programme. This can be done by toll-free calling, texting or by emailing. Text messages of other listeners can be viewed by clicking on a link. It also holds public polls whereby users can express their views on a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question by checking a box. It is also active in terms of cross promotion via social networking platforms and allows users to follow Newstalk ZB on Twitter and “like” on Facebook. Further, users can share the stories via links provided at the end of each story on hundreds of social networking platforms.
Alongside these dominant radio broadcasters are a plethora of community and niche broadcasters many of whom are utilising the various digital technologies to maximum effect. A prime example is Kiwi FM which was established as a public private partnership to promote the New Zealand music industry. The station also broadcasts a news and current affairs segment produced by Glenn Williams who uses a mix of technologies and platforms, including YouTube, to transmit his breakfast show.
At least two themes are immediately obvious from this brief description of the mainstream media’s presence on the web:
- the speed of change as companies respond both to constant technological developments (including new functionality and new platforms) and to the competitive challenges/opportunities these create;
- the level of convergence between the formerly discrete mediums.
The manner in which the mainstream media news websites covered the various sessions of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River mine disaster provides a good example of convergence. At different stages of the inquiry Stuff and both TVNZ and TV3 provided streamed video coverage of the hearings, (with the court imposed ten minute time delay). The sites also provided what were effectively live blogs or news wraps constituting a short-hand summary of the day’s proceedings. At one point The Press embedded in its website a recording of a miner’s 111 call to emergency services. Archival video, still photography and news stories supplemented the live news coverage.
This level of convergence looks set to continue. State broadcaster Radio New Zealand is, for example, discussing a proposal put forward by South Pacific Pictures’ John Barnett to develop a public service television channel off the back of Radio New Zealand.28 This proposal, which was under active consideration at the time of writing, illustrates the manner in which dramatic reductions in the capital costs around television broadcasting make possible the seamless evolution of one type of news publisher to another.
2. Web only “News” Media
This next category comprises a broad spectrum of web publishers who are engaged in either generating, aggregating and/or commenting on news and current affairs. The news and current affairs components of these sites may in some instances be the site’s primary focus or it may comprise a small or occasional component of broader publishing activities. These sites have “news like” qualities but are not currently covered by a regulatory body.
The category is extremely broad. It includes: sites like Scoop which are squarely in the business of breaking and publishing news and generating comment; sites like Yahoo!New Zealand which aggregate news content produced by others and specialist sites which incorporate elements of news and current affairs alongside advocacy or public relations and marketing content.
In the following discussion we attempt to distinguish the different features of these various sites and the extent to which news and current affairs is critical to their publishing activities. For ease of discussion we have grouped these sites into the following categories:
(a) Online News Sites & News Services;
(b) Online news aggregators;
(c) Public relations and advocacy sites.
a) Online News Sites & Services
This sub-category includes web-based news sites whose publishing activities most closely resemble those of the traditional news media in that they generate and aggregate news and current affairs and these activities are central to their business model.
In this category are open, generalist sites such as Scoop.co.nz, and specialist business and financial sites such as interest.co.nz, NewsRoom.co.nz and BusinessDesk. These latter two are subscription-only services targeting the corporate and professional sectors with tailored news and news aggregation services.
Scoop is an example of a site which bears some resemblance to an online newspaper both in appearance and content. Like the online versions of the mainstream print newspapers, Scoop is a multimedia generalist news site offering a mix of text and audio-visual content. The site is run by an experienced editorial team, led by journalist Alastair Thompson. The site is accredited to the New Zealand Parliamentary Press Gallery. In September 2011 Nielsen Media Research ranked Scoop as sixth out of the top ten news sites with a daily average of 8,038 unique browsers.29
With only limited reporting resources, Scoop’s editorial philosophy is to target and develop stories it believes are of public significance and which may be overlooked or drop off the agenda of the mainstream media. In addition to news and comment generated by its own writers, Scoop also specialises in publishing submitted material from a wide variety of sources, including media releases provided by corporates.
Interest.co.nz’s primary focus is on providing consumers and businesses with an independent source of business news. The site provides breaking business news, property information, and other financial information and commentaries. It has a strong focus on consumer finance and in particular on providing users with tools to compare retail interest rates. Original content is generated by a small editorial team comprising three editors based in Auckland and a political reporter based in the Press Gallery in Wellington.
The site makes strong use of cross-media promotion and incorporates video (primarily hosted on YouTube), text and photographs. This includes a daily 90 second YouTube broadcast of top financial and general news stories fronted by managing editor Bernard Hickey and sponsored by the BNZ.
The site encourages a high degree of user participation. Unlike mainstream media sites, journalists often participate in the online discussion, posting comments themselves.
NewsRoom and BusinessDesk are both subscription news services focusing their reporting resources on generating and aggregating business and political stories aimed at the corporate and finance sector.
NewsRoom was established in 1996 as a private venture but has been wholly owned by the New Zealand stock exchange, NZX, since 2007. Like Scoop, and interest.co.nz, NewsRoom has full Parliamentary accreditation and operates in many respects like a subscription wire service. It describes itself as a news agency with a “no-spin” editorial policy aimed at providing accurate and reliable information.”30 Clients also have access to tailored newsfeeds drawing on the company’s extensive archives and wire services.
BusinessDesk describes itself as a “white label” high quality business news service, available on wholesale subscription to any media channel.31 It has contracts to provide a range of content, including by-lined business and economic features, on a non-exclusive basis, to a range of media organisations including Yahoo! New Zealand, APN, TVNZ and Scoop. Established in 2008 by specialist economic and political journalists Pattrick Smellie and Jonathan Underhill, it provides subscribers with a daily news feed including overnight market reports and a synthesis of the key developments in specific market sectors including company news and regulatory/legislative developments.
Both Scoop and NewsRoom emphasise the importance of providing a direct channel for the dissemination of press releases to their audiences. In this respect their business philosophies owe more to the unmediated and decentralised culture of the web than to the “publisher as gatekeeper/mediator” model associated with traditional news media.
For example, in promoting the benefits of its services, NewsRoom explicitly addresses the benefits of receiving information such as press releases in their raw or unedited form:32
We have dedicated journalists whose job it is to ensure we get the news out fast.
Mainstream media get the majority of their news from press releases, which is edited and then sub-edited. This takes time and does not always provide you with the complete story […] NewsRoom subscribers can see the news unfold as journalists do in mainstream media newsrooms, but journalists are not dictating what you can see and can’t see.
The concept that users should have access to raw and primary material wherever possible is also reflected in Scoop’s practice of providing readers with multiple links to source material. This is a part of the culture of internet publishing and has a transparency that is not always part of the culture of mainstream media where material is frequently cited without referencing or linking to source documents.
All these sites are run on commercial lines. Scoop has formed what it describes as the “Scoop Media Cartel” as a mechanism for selling advertising on affiliated blog sites. This is a commercial agreement drawn up between Scoop and a number of popular blogs, such as Kiwiblog, Pundit, Public Address and Spare Room in which Scoop provides links to the blogs from the Scoop website and sells advertising spots on the blog sites. The arrangement is purely commercial and Scoop has no editorial control over the blog sites.
Special interest sites
Alongside these more traditional general news and subscription business wire services there are a number of sites which target specific segments of the market but which may incorporate general news content as part of their offering.
The technology news site Geekzone.co.nz is an example of a successful specialist subject site that is perhaps closer to a highly interactive online magazine than a general news site. It provides breaking and other technological news, and reviews and comment covering a broad range of topics including telecommunications, computing, IT and business. The site carries significant advertising but subscribers are able to access the content without advertising. Geekzone is highly interactive, inviting postings and comments on all news articles. It also provides IT job listings, forums, blogs and chat rooms with video or text chatting capabilities. Subscribers are able to establish private discussion forums with invitation-only access. The site provides a rich forum for the exchange of specialist knowledge, information and views about a very wide range of technology related issues including industry and regulatory matters.
Many other industry and business websites have evolved to provide consumers with access to information and to promote services. Examples include Zoodle, a property website melding data and information generated by Terralink and realestate.co.nz.
b) Online News Aggregators
Aggregating, sharing and commenting on content created by others is a core functionality of the read/write web. One of the significant challenges facing traditional news organisations in the digital era has been the emergence of news aggregators such as those established by the search engines Yahoo and Google. News aggregators may not produce any original content, relying instead on filtering, organising, repackaging and linking to content produced by others, including traditional media organisations.
A 2010 study of news aggregators conducted by The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University identified four distinct categories of news aggregators:33
- feed aggregators, such as Google News and Yahoo!New Zealand which gather and organise material from particular types of websites (in this instance news websites) and republish the headlines and introductions to stories, often but not always linking readers back to the original host site;
- speciality aggregators which gather information from a number of different sources on a particular topic linking back to the source site;
- blog aggregators which may use third party content in various ways including cutting and pasting, quoting and linking to third party content;
- user-curated aggregators such as digg and Reddit which feature user-submitted links and content drawn from a wide variety of sources including YouTube and blog posts.
In New Zealand Yahoo!New Zealand ranks as the third most popular general news site.34 Up until April 2011 the site was jointly owned by Telecom New Zealand and Yahoo!7, a joint partnership between the Australian media company Seven Network Ltd and US-based technology company Yahoo! Inc. The site is now wholly owned by Yahoo!7 but remains in partnership with Telecom.
Up until its demise, the bulk of Yahoo!New Zealand’s news content was provided under a commercial contract with the wire service NZPA. The site now relies heavily on Newstalk ZB, BusinessDesk and AAP’s NZ Newswire. It also features video content from other providers and reproduces Newstalk ZB headline news. Entertainment information and video previews feature strongly on the site. The site also offers free email services in conjunction with Telecom Xtra.
Readers wishing to comment on stories must first register and create an account with Yahoo!New Zealand.
Despite the fact that Yahoo!New Zealand generates very little of its own news content, its very high ranking as a news site makes it strong competitor of the mainstream media news sites, Stuff and nzherald.35
Alongside these large corporate news aggregators there are a number of smaller, locally established websites which focus primarily on providing a platform for contributed news and user-generated content. Infonews, set up in 2006 by Southern Institute of Technology students Fraser Mills and Peter Hodge, is an example of a news website designed to provide a platform for citizen or “grassroots” journalism. The site allows any individual or organisation to post news, photos, and events. The contributor retains control of and may edit whatever information they chose to post.
The site carries only limited advertising and is organised by region and topic allowing users to tailor their selections according to their subject interests and location. The site carries a large number of press releases including those generated by local authorities, politicians, clubs, marketing and public relations firms and sporting organisations.
Infonews makes use of social media to distribute headline news via Twitter and Facebook.
Voxy.co.nz, is an example of a general news site which aggregates its material from a number of sources including, before its closure, NZPA. The site carries the tag line “Your Voice –Uncensored” and has positioned itself as an aggregator of information and news from its community of users. Voxy is owned by the media company Digital Advance.
A number of other news sites appear to operate on similar basis to Voxy, aggregating press releases and supplementing this with some content produced internally. For example in 2009 TopNews, which appears to operate business and technology news web portals in a number of countries, began publishing in New Zealand.
Dan News, which carries the tag line, “Breaking News, Media and Bloopers”, is run by a self-described “hobbyist” and aggregates audio clips and promotional/programming information from the major broadcasters. We were told there is no formal arrangement between the broadcasters whose content is posted and the site’s owner. The site’s emphasis is on entertainment rather than news, but Dan News is an active tweeter with media followers and uses Twitter as a live news feed.
c) Public relations and advocacy sites
Web publishing has also become an important tool in the marketing and promotion of businesses, educational institutions, governmental and non-governmental organisations.
For example, all major political parties in New Zealand have their own websites which provide both an interface with the public and a repository for policy, speeches, and public announcements. These sites also carry “news clips” in the form of the parties’ own press releases and video coverage of public meetings, press conferences etc. The National Party’s site includes a link to the Prime Minister’s website which features the Prime Minister’s personal “video journal” in which he reflects on the week’s activities.
These sites and their content are all cross-referenced and linked to self-publishing and social media sites including YouTube, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter.
As discussed in the introductory chapter, web publishing has also become an important forum for consumer and advocacy groups to share information and apply pressure on organisations and individuals. Examples of consumer advocacy sites in New Zealand include CYFSWatch and the ACCforum which provide platforms for the exchange of information and views on the performance of the Accident Compensation Corporation and the government’s child protection agency Child, Youth and Family.36
The web also provides a channel via which individuals can conduct their own campaigns targeting businesses, institutions or individuals.
In New Zealand an example of this type of site is Kiwisfirst, edited by Vince Siemer. The site focuses on the New Zealand judiciary and legal system and offers robust critiques of individual judges and the conduct of the courts.37
3. The Blogosphere – from “Hard news” to gossip
The development of user-friendly blogging software and hosting services such as Word Press have facilitated the rapid proliferation of blogs, or weblogs. Technorati, an internet search engine for blogs, follows over 100 million blogs.38 In its 2010 “state of the blogosphere” report, Technorati suggested the blogosphere was changing significantly as a result of the growing popularity of micro and mobile blogging.39 Further the line between blogs and social networking is dissolving with the sharing of blog posts increasingly through social media.
Blogs are either hosted on a website or interface, such as Blogspot, or have their own separate website. Blogs vary greatly in terms of professionalism, readership and influence. At one end of the spectrum are hobbyists who write diary-like entries primarily for the consumption of colleagues, friends or family. At the other, are the bloggers with specialist subject knowledge in areas such as business, politics, law, the media, science and the arts.
New Zealand has an active blogging community straddling this spectrum. Among the specialist subject bloggers are respected and influential communities of legal and technology bloggers including, for example, barrister and media lawyer Steven Price (Media Law Journal), Victoria University lecturer Dean Knight (Laws 179 Elephants and the Law), Professor Andrew Geddis (Pundit), Mauricio Freitas’ technology blog, Geekzone, and Richard McManus’s seminal blog ReadWriteWeb, to name but a few.
Alongside the specialist subject bloggers there is a growing number of individual and collective blog sites whose primary focus could broadly be defined as “news and current affairs.” The blog site Tumeke! publishes rankings of many of New Zealand’s most well-known political and news blogs and since the survey began in 2007 the number of blogs included in the current affairs category has risen from 164 to 203.40
Some of these bloggers have come from a traditional journalistic or academic background but many have not. Among the longest running current affairs blogs are journalist Russell Brown’s Hard News (hosted on Public Address) and Bruce Simpson’s Aardvark.41
There are a number of well-established collective blog sites, including some, like Public Address and Pundit, which bring together bloggers with a variety of views and perspectives and which are not overtly affiliated with any particular ideology or political party.
However, blogging has evolved as a robust and often polarised forum for debate and many blogging collectives and bloggers are strongly partisan – indeed it is a common feature for bloggers to include on their websites links to other bloggers categorised as “left/middle/right”.
Some sites, such as The Standard, (which describes itself as the “New Zealand Labour movement newspaper reborn digitally“), Frogblog (the Green Party) and Red Alert (Labour caucus), are clearly affiliated with political parties/movements. Others, like Cameron Slater’s Whale Oil Beef Hooked blog, David Fararr’s Kiwiblog and lawyer Cathy Odger’s Cactus Kate, present their own political perspective and have forged distinctive online identities.
The most prolific bloggers will post at regular intervals throughout the day. For example, David Farrar, author of Kiwiblog, posts approximately six to eight blogs per day.
Bloggers typically draw on material from a wide variety of media, integrating the original content on which they are commenting into the body of their work by cutting and pasting excerpts from mainstream media websites (text and video) and linking to other websites or bloggers. It is also common for bloggers to post documents and or links to source material (including, for example, official reports or research) referred to in their blogs.
Although primarily a forum for opinion, bloggers also break news, sometimes strategically. For example, in the period during which this Issues Paper was researched, blogger Cameron Slater broke a number of news stories which were subsequently carried in the mainstream media.42 Bloggers, including Cameron Slater, also frequently critique mainstream media and in particular point out when they have been “scooped” by a blogger.
However the relationship between mainstream media and bloggers increasingly appears to be more symbiotic than adversarial. Many bloggers have strong political and media networks which they are able to use strategically – in much the same way as have journalists working for the mainstream media. Like their mainstream counterparts, a number of bloggers, including for example Russell Brown, David Farrar and Bomber Bradbury, have several other media roles as producers, media commentators and interviewers. David Farrar has recently been taken up as a columnist in the New Zealand Herald and also has a blog on Stuff. Many bloggers are also adept users of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, using these mediums to cross-promote their blogs and to monitor other publishers.
In contrast with mainstream journalists in the past, bloggers frequently develop strong communities of followers with whom they actively engage. The quality of blog postings on sites like Pundit and Public Address is often matched by the calibre of the commentary they attract. A blogger’s influence is often measured not just by the number of unique viewers the blog site attracts but also by the number of participants and the number of external sites linking into it.43
The blog’s administrator (who is often also the author of the blog) sets the parameters for user engagement, deciding whether to moderate comments and where to set the boundaries around questions of tone, taste and decency. Standards and the levels of control vary widely: the internet culture’s aversion to censorship is often evident in the lack of moderation. This can sometimes see commentary descend into highly derogatory and abusive exchanges between different commentators.
Most bloggers are unpaid but a number of sites do carry paid advertising. Public Address, Pundit, Spare Room and Kiwiblog are all part of the “Scoop Media Cartel” a centralised arrangement by which Scoop sells advertising and links to these blog pages.44
4. Social Media
The rapid evolution and adoption of social media and networking is perhaps the most significant recent cultural development within the web 2.0 environment. There are literally millions of social networking forums facilitating the sharing of text, photographs and audio-visual content among users.
The spectrum of social media platforms ranges from community message boards or chat rooms, which are user-generated and tend to arise around interest groups, through to the wide reaching social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook which allow messages to be broadcast to the world.
The term “chat room” is simply descriptive of synchronous or asynchronous conferencing. Thus it can apply to instant messaging chats and online forums that either stand-alone or are provided as an additional forum on a website, such as the community message board on Trade Me; to a stand-alone chat room; through to a full immersive graphical social environment such as in a multiplayer online game world (like Runescape). They tend to be free and require the creation of some kind of account or registration so that they have a username and a password.
Messaging forums can appear in countless forms including communities formed around a particular technology, interest or activity such as a chat room or a message forum on special interest sites. They can exist as an online forum, such as the message boards on Trade Me and Geek Zone. Trade Me’s message boards are organised around topics, or discussion threads, and attract on average 25,000 new posts per day.45
These forums allow for posting and responding to messages, but do not allow for the level of interactivity of instant messaging. Chat rooms, on the other hand, tend to be stand-alone sites that provide a venue for people of a common interest group to communicate with each other in real-time. There are millions of chat rooms available for virtually every area of interest, including mothers groups, baton twirling, martial arts, crafts and so on.
At the other end of the social networking spectrum lies the more generic broadcasting-to-the-world social networking. These are the sites that have much larger numbers of users and that are formed and joined for the prime purpose of communicating and connecting with friends in an online environment. Messages can either be broadcast to the world or restricted to the user’s selected group of contacts.
With more than 700 million users, Facebook is increasingly used by public figures and organisations as a public relations tool, including the strategic release of information and “news”. As discussed earlier, it has also become an important cross-promotional and information source for mainstream media.
Facebook and MySpace facilitate the sharing of virtually any personal information including text, photographs and video. Flickr differentiates itself by primarily being a photo-sharing platform with messaging capabilities. Twitter on the other hand only allows for short messages (140 characters at a time) to be published.
They all incorporate an ability to gather friends, “follow”, or adapt some other way of grouping people together, either on the basis of a shared history or on the basis of interest areas. For example, Twitter allows users to “follow” other users so that the other person’s tweets will show up on their “timeline”. Further, users can join a conversation by tweeting with symbols such as # (which indicates a topic) or @ (which indicates a person). A user’s profile page allows them to follow people who have mentioned (or tweeted a message with @ before that user’s username). It is a common function for users to be constantly informed as to what other people within their community are thinking or doing. Examples include the “news feeds” page on Facebook and the “timeline” on Twitter.
There is a significant overlap with web-based email and these social networking platforms. For example, Flickr makes provision for users to find friends who may also be using Flickr by importing contacts from email accounts, or by undertaking a search of a friend’s name. Flickr also makes provision for groups to form on the basis of a specific interest area or a group-raising awareness. Further most of these sites provide regular email updates so that users are constantly aware of what is occurring on their profile page or threads of messages that they have added to.
There is an ability to share information from other sources. This is generally done with the assistance of a “widget” (a stand-alone application that can be embedded into third party sites by any user on a page where they have rights of authorship). The widget will appear on other websites allowing the user to click on a button and have it link to their social networking account. Provision is then also generally made for the user to “follow” the source on Twitter or “like” on Facebook.
Nielsen Consumer and Media Insight General News Sites Ranking Report for September 2011 rated stuff.co.nz/news as the top site with 214,334 average daily unique browsers; nzherald.co.nz/news was rated second with 173,827. In the month of September over two million unique browsers visited the Stuff site and 1.8 million the nzherald site. Duplication of browsers between the two was estimated to be 17.6%.
In introducing the Television New Zealand Amendment Bill to Parliament on 23 March 2010 the Minister of Broadcasting Dr Jonathan Coleman spoke of the need for Television New Zealand “to be recognized as a digital media company” capable of functioning in a “converging media environment” (23 March 2010) 662 NZPD 10440.
In April 2011 it was announced NZPA was to be wound up after major shareholder, Fairfax Media, gave notice of its intention to withdraw support. In 2006 NZPA had moved to a fully commercial model, generating its own content and entering into service agreements with a wide range of publishers including Yahoo!New Zealand, Telecom, TV3, MediaWorks and the National Business Review. NZPA also provided 24 hour international wire feeds for New Zealand media companies and provided a service for the distribution of press releases via its news wire. At the time that its closure was announced NZPA was generating around 800 New Zealand news stories a week. Following its demise the Australian wire service, AAP, which is jointly owned by Fairfax and News Ltd, boosted its New Zealand resources with a view to breaching some of the gap left by NZPA. NZPA’s demise is likely to have a major impact on a wide range of media and is also likely to see the development of new cross-media partnerships and commercial content sharing arrangements.
Radio New Zealand News and Newstalk ZB were ranked 8th and 9th in Nielsen’s September 2011 with an average of 5,716 and 4,505 daily unique browsers respectively. Radio New Zealand’s monthly unique browser total for September 2011 was estimated to be 106,706 and Newstalk ZB’s 84,803.
Kimberly Isbell “The Rise of the News Aggregator: Legal Implications and Best Practices” (Research Publication no.2010-10 The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, August 30, 2010) at 2.
Yahoo!New Zealand’s rankings are likely to be influenced in part by the legacy of its commercial relationship with Telecom whereby Yahoo! Xtra was the default homepage for many computers sold in New Zealand, along with the news portal being offered up to Yahoo email users.
These included the publication of papers obtained under the Official Information Act relating to political briefings by the Security Intelligence Service in relation to the Israeli citizens caught up in the Christchurch earthquake. Cameron Slater “Phil Goff and his briefings he never had” (2011) Whale Oil Beef Hooked .
For example Tumeke’s ranking is derived from a combination of website traffic, number of posts and comments and links from other sites. In December 2009 the top five sites according to this measure were Kiwiblog; Whale Oil Beef Hooked; The Standard; Cactus Kate; and Not PC.