Overseas ownership of the New Zealand press has been a hotly debated issue, especially in the 1980s when it was relatively rare – and new – for a New Zealand paper to be foreign-owned. By 2007 almost all of the country’s daily papers were owned by two Australian-based media conglomerates – Fairfax and APN.
Gone after 132 years
In August 2011, after almost 132 years in business, the New Zealand Press Agency (NZPA) closed, a victim of technology changes and the concentration of newspaper ownership in the hands of two Australian chains. Veteran journalist Max Lambert, who started with NZPA in 1958, and remembered when stories were delivered by telegraph and phones were rarely used, noted that the closure left New Zealand as one of the few western countries with no domestic news agency. 'We'll all be the poorer for the agency's passing.'1
Impact of the internet
The internet has had both positive and negative consequences for the newspaper industry. By 2013 many people preferred to access websites rather than to read a hard-copy newspaper. However, each of the daily papers also offered an online edition supplying news that could be updated within minutes, with moving pictures and interactive graphics alongside text and still photos. These websites helped the papers to compete directly with the immediacy of radio and TV news.
The forest of small classified ads traditionally provided the bulk of revenue for newspapers, and they were hard-hit by the boom in online shopping and other forms of trading. In an attempt to make up for this loss of income, the media conglomerate Fairfax bought the popular auction website TradeMe in 2006. Six years later it sold all its shares in TradeMe to fund its other operations.
The sharp decline in the overall number, total readership and economic importance of newspapers in the later 20th century has also been a subject for heated debate, and the virtual disappearance of newspapers has regularly been predicted. However, that decline has slowed significantly in the 21st century, and in 2013 newspapers continued to attract a substantial number of readers and advertising revenue.
A 2009 survey found that 57% of Dunedin residents over 15 read the Otago Daily Times on an average day. The survey found that, nationwide, newspaper readership had declined by less than 5% in the previous decade.
Community basis for papers
A major reason for this tenacity was the survival of a localised pattern of newspaper distribution dating from the 19th century. Even in the 21st century the five main dailies remained confined to their own geographical areas, with little overlapping readership. This regional character has helped to sustain these newspapers in the face of competition from other media and from each other.
In the 21st century newspapers continued to bind New Zealand communities together. Readers relied on their local paper for death notices, local authority disputes, film reviews, shopping bargains and local sports results – the essential community communications that television, radio and the internet had not yet replaced.