Journalism - there's no other word for it

May 8, 2024

Journalism - there's no other word for it

TWN Campaign 2024


It seems journalism is in a ‘crisis’. The past few months have seen the largest cuts to media in Aotearoa’s history. It seemed to begin with the sudden proposed closure of NewsHub. Shortly after, TVNZ announced the culling of nearly 10 per cent of their newsroom, along with the axing of key shows like Sunday and Fair Go.

The impact of the situation was not reflected in the way the media reacted, but by the way it sent ripples through much of Aotearoa’s population - not just those invested in the media world.

At the same time public trust in news has plummeted.

Journalism and media rarely get much interaction from the public. In fact according to the Trust in Media Report (Myllylahti & Treadwell, 2024) overall public trust in the media is only getting worse. In the past five years, general trust in news has fallen by 20 per cent.

Cuts to big newsrooms made big news. But beyond the big newsrooms this ‘crisis’ has extended. Just last week the Wairoa Star newspaper announced it was closing after more than 100 years. Wairoa District Council mayor Craig Little told RNZ that the closure would “erode the community's democracy”.

Without the fourth estate – which involves our journalists informing the public of important events and decisions made that affect their lives, as well holding those in power to account - people don’t have the information to make informed decisions about their lives.

Earlier this year, one of Aotearoa’s few online arts magazines, Pantograph Punch, went on an indefinite hiatus. Director Van Mei likened it to falling off a cliff. In fact, she went as far as describing the publication being “mid-splatter”.

Stuff publisher and executive chair Sinead Boucher has said journalism is “in a fight for its life.”

The reactions have undoubtedly been intense and the word that’s been thrown around the most - in articles, by politicians, in the public - is ‘crisis’. But what does that even mean?

Today, Te Waha Nui launches its ‘Journalism - there’s no other word for it’ campaign to address these questions and more.

A recent report, If not journalists, then who?, was released by Koi Tū, Centre for Informed Futures, the independent think-tank based at Auckland University. In the paper, principal author Dr Gavin Ellis, former editor of The NZ Herald, outlines the key changes needed if journalism is to claw itself out of its current state.

He says one is journalists making the effort to show the process of how they create a story.

"Maybe it's time that we started to tell the public how we do our stories, why we went to certain people, what the thrust of a story was - and so on.

“Maybe we've got to take the public a bit more into our confidence than we have in the past. If we do that, then I think we'll see those levels of trust rise.”

It’s important to outline what exactly has gone wrong for journalism. For most people, this ‘crisis’ consists of the many closures of news outlets and job cuts across the motu. However, it goes much deeper than this, with many factors intersecting to create what Ellis calls an “ecosystem collapse” for reliable news.

Factors like the previously mentioned declining trust in news, public mentalities such as ‘go woke go broke’, politicians' outspoken distaste for the media, along with a slow uptake on modernising and digitising news formats in Aotearoa have all combined to create this current state.

Closures and cuts are nothing new. They’ve been happening for decades. In 2011 the New Zealand Press Association closed, leaving Aotearoa without its largest news agency. In 2015 Campbell Live was axed despite its popularity with the public.

Outlets have closed, programmes have been cut, ratings have dropped. It’s happened before and it will happen again. But it's the combination of wider issues that make the current situation unique. Many argue that it’s time for news to move on, to modernise and reformat.

Te Waha Nui is a team of young journalists who will begin their careers in a tumultuous time and continue to work in a time of change and adaptation.

In the current New Zealand Listener, politics writer Danyl McLaughlin issues a warning.

"Facebook and its influencers, micro-celebrities and covert authoritarian propagandists are poised to become the nation’s primary news source."

Journalism may be set to change. As Ellis asks, ‘if not journalists then who?’ 

We say there simply is no other word for journalism – no alternative. And the public needs to know how their news is produced and why.

The purpose of this campaign is to communicate to the public exactly what is going on and why, after all this time, journalism remains integral to society.

To put it simply, our campaign will aim to outline exactly why independent news matters in Aotearoa.

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