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. 

THE SPORTS LINE: All you need to know

Joining FreeFM has been lingering in my mind for months now, and from late January I will officially be on air with a talkback show called The Sports Line.

FreeFM89 STACK b_w_no strap

The Sports Line will be a weekly talkback sports show that discusses a few of the bigger sports stories of the week in one segment, goes full in depth behind the scenes of Waikato sports clubs such as the Chiefs and Northern Knights in the other, and branches into a topic of the week like segment at the end of each show.

Occasionally there will be interviews with Chiefs and Knights players, coaches and members of management.

There will also be periodical discussions with mainstream sports journalists to get their take on the issues discussed in the show.

Access radio means just that, it is accessible and anyone can join FreeFM so while this opportunity is going to be a really cool experience, I go into it knowing full well that I am in no way a voice for radio, but it is just another string to add to the bow of things I am doing at the moment and I think it will go in well with my experiences with the Chiefs in Super Rugby this year.

But why FreeFM?

It all started with a brief conversation between Devon Mace and myself, I really wanted to get into access radio with him.

Devon is one of the most talented writers I’ve ever met, his knowledge of cricket in particular is amazing.

But for whatever reason, probably because we are both super busy when not in classes together off writing our own bits and bobs on sport for our own websites, Devon and I just never made it to the FreeFM studios for that meeting with the programme director.

I hadn’t even heard of FreeFM until seeing it during a presentation during one of our classes at Wintec last year.

Since meeting with FreeFM in late November I have had 3 sessions in the studio getting to grips with everything and after a brief meeting with the programme director this morning, I will officially go on air hosting The Sports Line from late January.

The show will be run on a weekly basis but it will not be aired live.

Not airing the show live is for a few reasons.

One, because of the complex scheduling in place at FreeFM. As an access radio station (where so many people have shows that vary so much in nature and subject) trying to find a time slot that would suit not only myself, but also FreeFM too, and placing it around and close by to the weekend where so much major sports events occur is a big challenge.

That is one reason.

Another reason is because I need more experience and time in the studio hosting a radio show before I would be comfortable live on the air.

Even once the show goes to air and everything I record is radio programme, I am still learning on the job, so for this reason pre recording the show to be placed on the air later is the best way forward at this moment in time.

The Sports Line will air early in the week, and will be pre recorded and put to air later that same day.

In addition to be able to listen to The Sports Line on 89.0FM once it goes to air, the show will also be available to download as a podcast, stream online via FreeFM’s official website, or downloaded through iTunes.

Each episode will also be posted on the official Access Radio Database, and also posted on all my own social media sites including Twitter and Facebook.

So until late January, if you have any ideas or mentions for the show, get in contact with me on Twitter @realmikepulman.