Quality Sports Journalism In NZ Cannot Be Replaced Swiftly

New Zealand’s media industry is reeling following a dark week which saw two of its biggest institutions shut down.

Let’s take a look at the week that was.

First, it was Radio Sport who stopped broadcasting on Monday after its owner NZME switched the frequency of New Zealand’s only sports-dedicated sports radio station over to Newstalk ZB. 

Hundreds of jobs were lost, and not just the voices you hear on the airwaves. You’re also talking about the producers, the reporters in the field and all the researchers. 

Furthermore, it all happened incredibly quickly, almost faster than the speed in which news breaks on a day to day basis. 

Radio Sport housed New Zealand’s best minds in the sports media business and their departure simply cannot be filled in terms of talent. When, or even if, Radio Sport were to return in some fashion, many of those talents won’t be coming back either. 

Some say that the decision had been a long time coming due to the network simply not making enough money for NZME to remain commercially viable, but that’s not a black mark against the journalists rather the model in which they were working. 

The media business relies on advertising to pay its workers and advertising has all but dried up since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in New Zealand, just take a look at newspapers recently or tune into the television, the same goes for radio. 

Then on Thursday, the shock of all shocks, Bauer Media announced its closure in New Zealand, bringing with it the death nail to some of the most beloved magazines that have served readers for multiple generations. 

Shortly after, speculation was similar to the Radio Sport closure, that it wasn’t so much because of COVID-19 alone, but the implications of not being able to print magazines during the lockdown served as the perfect excuse to make a decision that had long been in the pipeline. 

Today, the Government has been criticised by many in the media for not helping out Bauer Media with any financial assistance, but the Prime Minister herself says that the company refused to take wage subsidy allowances. 

Whatever the real truth, the impact on workers at Bauer Media makes the losses Radio Sport sustained look tiny. Journalists, columnists and editors for magazines like The Listener, the Woman’s Day/Weekly, and Metro Magazine (just to name a few) are well into triple figures when you put the entire New Zealand branch of Bauer together. 

So, with all this news and the hundreds of jobs lost to the business, where to from here to the New Zealand media? 

Filling The Void, But At What Credible Value? 

We’ve already seen many a social media pundit quickly try to turn the closure of media outlets into an opportunity to fill the void, so the answer about where to from here can be found in that, social media will give the opportunities for everyone to keep sports media going in different forms. 

But despite that, quality journalism for sports and magazine is in grave peril right now. 

COVID-19 and its impact on New Zealand will likely to be the single story for our media moving forward. For the established sports media, it’s a gigantic game of wait and see for the next while. 

Until the sporting landscape gets somewhere close to being back to normal then there really isn’t a sustainable market for it, because the news will quickly dry up and this will expose the flaws of opportunistic tendencies by those who think they can replace and do better. 

If anything, what COVID-19 should teach us is how important professional competitions really are to the business of sports journalism. 

If you break it all down, the news isn’t just what happens on game day and the fallout from it, the news is really about the stories within the sport, player transfers and injuries, what franchises are doing or not doing, etc etc. 

Don’t discount the importance of contacts that some of the sports journalists keep either. 

Social media pundits can and will successfully be able to keep the sports conversation going within their respective bubbles but without legitimate access to sources and the knowledge of journalistic practices, the value of their respective mediums will be low. 

If six years of doing this sports journalism thing (semi-professionally before transitioning into the mainstream) has taught me anything it’s that the story always matters, not the chatter. 

You don’t have a story without the sport and the access to it, what you have is chatter. 

That’s not journalism, it doesn’t require that hard work required to verify fact from opinion, the ability to be able to meet deadline multiple times per day, or to go back and re-write or re-produce content to meet the quality required for mainstream publication. 

The biggest test that’s about to face the business on these shores is ensuring that when sports media does return to what it was before COVID-19, it maintains the talents it had to ensure the quality and substance remains. 

Waikato hold off Manawatu fightback

Waikato has notched a crucial early-season win over Manawatu 28-21 in Palmerston North this afternoon.

Manwatu fightback against Waikato. Credit: Perform Group

The win puts the Mooloos back on track after a loss in week one.

Performing much more comprehensively in all areas. Waikato utilized their backline and benefit from two great impact performances by returning All Blacks Liam Messam and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

Discipline was again a concern for the Mooloos in the victory.

Manawatu showed that they are never out of a match, coming back to nearly clinch a late victory.

Shaun Stevenson wasted no time picking up from where he left off in the last game, stepping past four Manawatu defenders to score in the corner with just over a minute on the clock.

McKenzie missed the conversion, but Waikato was out to an early lead.

Manawatu was penalised for not rolling away, then McKenzie put the Mooloos eight points in front with a kick from close to halfway.

Manawatu looked shaky early on, falling off a couple of tackles but the Mooloos kept up the early pressure, passing the ball around, and bringing the backline into the game.

McKenzie took Waikato out to an 11-point lead, slotting his second penalty.

Laim Messam showed how important his experience can be for the young Mooloos side, forcing a turnover after a brilliant counter-ruck.

Manawatu fullback Hamiora Thomas was sent to the sin bin for deliberately knocking down the ball when Waikato had a clean break and a free player out wide.

It didn’t take Waikato long to score with an extra man on the park.

Going down in the tackle, Loni Uhila reached over the try line and planted the ball down on the turf, handing Waikato their second try. After McKenzie converted, Waikato had a big lead of 18-0 with a quarter of the match gone.

Pushed for the first time on defense, Waikato was lucky to not be caught on the left after rushing up quickly.

A prolonged period of attack saw Manawatu begin to dominate possession and territory after Jordan Payne was sent to the sin bin for illegally stripping the ball.Waikato were backed up on their try line but their defense was strong and held out the attack.

At halftime, Waikato led 18-0 at Arena Manawatu.

Waikato were immediately on the attack after the break, but when Messam knocked on, Manawatu counter attacked and a brilliantly weighted kick on the break by Jason Emery setup Manawatu’s first try.

Otere Black converted and the score was 18-7.

Just after getting back to a full playing XV, Waikato were a man down again when Tawera Kerr-Barlow was sent to the sin bin for an illegal knockdown.

Kerr-Barlow would have been kicking himself after an impressive showing prior.

Fraser Armstrong powered over the line, breaking down three Waikato defenders to score Manawatu’s second. Black’s conversion saw the Waikato lead cut to just four.

As they did in round one, Manawatu showed that they are capable of coming back from large deficits and had all the momentum.

Damian McKenzie gave Waikato some breathing room, slotting a penalty to make the score 21-14.

Waikato got a little too ambitious in their own half, McKenzie threw his third forward pass of the game to hand possession to Manawatu on the try line, but Manawatu knocked on and the opportunity went begging.

Good kicking from McKenzie and Weber shifted the game back down onto the Manawatu try line.

McKenzie slicked through the last line of Manawatu defense to score and all but put the game beyond the home side. Following the conversion, Waikato was out to a 14-point lead with the last period of the game remaining.

It was McKenzie’s first try in regular season ITM Cup competition.

Manwatu inched closer with a Nathan Tudreu sideline tippy toe, grounding the ball down, and after sending the decision upstairs, the try was awarded.

On the sideline, Black struck the kick perfectly to bring the deficit back to seven.

A certain try was lost for Manawatu when Black’s pass flew over the head of a free receiver, but Waikato were not out of the woods when Declan O’Donnell was tackled near his own try line as the Mooloos struggled to clear.

One last chance with running ball presented itself to Manawatu and the Turbos opted for an attacking scrum ten metres out. Moving forward with the ball, Manawatu came within inches of scoring, but the ball became trapped in the ruck.

The referee blew his whistle, and the game was over.

Waikato narrowly held on to be 28-21 winners in round two ITM Cup action over Manawatu.

Hamilton Press: Just about the people

The Hamilton Press and the vision of its editor Steve Edwards is simple, the paper must be community orientated.

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Most weekly newspapers like the Hamilton Press have the same motto.

It is news about the people, and views about the stories that matter to a community, regardless of how big or small.

Much has been made about the future of newspapers in the modern era, where news is being delivered to the consumer in so many new, instantly available, and interactive ways. News is breaking all the time.

The key word is instant.

For many community papers, there just isn’t room for those hard hitting breaking news stories that you read online or see on Twitter.

Because of its weekly turnaround, the Hamilton Press focuses on the stories that serve the city of Hamilton.

Thanks to the Waikato Regional Newspaper network, rural news from surrounding areas to Hamilton are covered in other newspapers, but the Hamilton Press works with each of its partner papers to put together the best stories that focus on people.

Daily editions that FairFax Media and the APN produce in the form of the Waikato Times and the NZ Herald are much different.

Weekly papers like the Hamilton Press are not going to get those big exclusive stories.

This is because of time sensitivity.

The Hamilton Press doesn’t exactly compete against other media either, it just tells a few of the community stories that are around Hamilton city each week.

Due to the size of the population, and the various amounts of stories that come from the community, Hamilton Press doesn’t exactly step on the toes of its rival paper the Hamilton News (produced by the APN) either.

The Hamilton Press operates using just one designated journalist.

According to the editor of the Hamilton Press Steve Edwards, their one journalist does the bulk of the writing that the newspaper produces each week.

Community newspapers like the Hamilton Press are also proving to be valuable to students, and Edwards believes that community papers like his own provide the best grounding because journalists cover everything and don’t just remain fixed on one area of news.

If utilised, Edwards believes students can get a lot out of the on-the-job style of learning that being a journalist for community newspapers can provide.

“Everyone can write, but to write for a paper on deadline and for what the paper wants, that’s the art. The best way of doing that is by doing that.”

Like a lot of people in the industry, Edwards believes that being pro active is the key to being a good journalist, even during the stages of training in tertiary education.

“I tell the people at Wintec all the time, write stuff for us as well as in class, the classroom is different. Go out and write a story, take a photo and send it in. If it gets rejected it gets rejected. It is not training, an exam exercise or a practice, what you do is you’re a journalist.”

Edwards believes the best students are the ones who don’t wait for an internship, but are the ones who show pro-activeness and take a chance by contacting newspapers and offering their work.

The Hamilton Press is produced weekly on a Wednesday, and delivered to mailboxes around the city for free.