NZ’s half-year of heartbreak as change and closures hit

Jun 12, 2024 at 10:20 am by admin

In what seems a little like a house of cards, rolling change has impacted a succession of New Zealand newsmedia outlets already this year, most conspicuously at the previously family-owned Gisborne Herald.

The paper cut its Monday edition early last month, with production of a revised format – including pages from the New Zealand Herald – moved to Auckland.

The changes followed NZME’s acquisition of the paper’s publishing assets, and led to the closure of the Goss Community-equipped printing plant in Gisborne.

You can almost feel the sadness as members of the Muir family – which has owned a share of the paper since 1884 – faced up to inevitable change. NZME and Wilson and Horton, previous owners of the New Zealand Herald, had owned 49 per cent of the Gisborne Herald since 1987.

NZME bought the 51 per cent it did not already own in March this year, a week after it had bought SunMedia’s three print publications and website.

Managing director Michael Muir – who in 2022 had been honoured with life membership of the NZ News Publishers’ Association “in recognition of his service to the association and the newspaper industry” – said then the sale of its publishing assets to NZME presented “the very best opportunity for the Gisborne Herald to remain viable into the future”.

Change has continued since then, the “publishing assets” sale leading to the closure of the Gisborne print site, which had overcome difficulties with isolation and fragile road links for 149 years.

Muir spoke last month of the response to declining circulation and advertising revenue for newspapers worldwide, and their impact on the Gisborne business, “exacerbated by lockdowns and closed borders due to the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, and more recently the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle on the economy in our region.”


Elsewhere, New Zealand broadcasting’s changes and casualties have been widely publicised, and include Three’s Newshub and cuts at TVNZ.

Last month (May), the 102-year-old Wairoa Star, a twice-weekly in Hawkes Bay, announced that it would close, chairman Matt Wilson saying that “all options available to us” had been exhausted. In a statement, he said “inflationary pressures and high interest rates” had created a tough economic environment.

“These impacts were felt deeply by the Wairoa Star and despite best efforts to control costs wherever possible, business revenue continued to decline over the last 12 months.”

There’s an NZME connection here too, with rival news site Stuff reporting that NZME, with 40.41 per cent, had been the Star’s biggest shareholder, with a further 22.58 per cent held by the Gisborne Herald company (of which NZME was a longstanding shareholder).

Among other casualties have been Life and Leisure magazine, and the print edition of the Howick and Pakuranga Times - the website has been saved by a new investor.

Michael Muir’s contribution to the NZ newspaper industry was celebrated at a formal dinner in 2022. Guests learned of a family connection with newspapers which went back to his great-great-grandfather James Muir, one of three men who printed New Zealand’s first newspaper in 1840. Later the Poverty Bay Herald, of which his great grandfather took full ownership in 1887, became the Gisborne Herald. His grandfather, father and uncle were also involved in the industry.

A 2015 book, Printer’s Progress: A New Zealand newspaper story 1840-2014 by Margaret Rees Jones, tells of the family’s involvement in NZ newspaper publishing, starting with Edinburgh printer James Muir’s “propitious” meeting with the publishers of the NZ Gazette, through six generations and the acquisition of the Poverty Bay Herald.

As the book’s title suggests, printing has always been a key element, and her detailed book tells of a succession of press equipment, including sheetfed presses, a Cossar (web-fed flatbed) in 1924, and a Hoe letterpress rotary leased in 1971 when Michael Muir’s case for moving to offset was overruled. A moment of special pride was therefore, commissioning of a Goss Community SC63 web-offset press in 1976, later extended with a second colour tower.

In today’s changed newsmedia environment, there’s a tragedy being acted out here – given the acknowledged impact and value of print – but not one anyone knows how address.

Peter Coleman

Pictured (top) A proud moment from 2016, when the Gisborne Herald’s press was visited by former prime minister John Key and MP Anne Tolley (picture Paul Rickard); and (below) Michael Muir (top right) with his family, honoured at the NZNPA dinner in 2022.

YouTube video from the Gisborne Herald channel

Sections: Newsmedia industry


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