The Broken Estate: Why New Zealand is uniquely vulnerable to global journalism crisis

A smashed television on the ground
Photo credit: Getty.

The journalism industry is battling a global tidal wave of misinformation using an ever-diminishing pool of resources, and New Zealand is particularly at risk. 

That's the confronting message from New Zealand author Mel Bunce, who now teaches journalism at City University in London.

"Advertising money that used to subsidise journalism is now moving to Facebook and Google and online platforms and it's not coming back. The economic crisis has hit New Zealand particularly hard," she told Newshub Nation. 

Her new book, The Broken Estate: Journalism and Democracy in a Post-Truth World, charts the waning fortunes of news media and highlights the dangers it poses to our political institutions.

Bunce says while publications in large markets, such as the New York Times or The Guardian, are large enough to survive or even thrive once their audience migrates online, New Zealand's smaller market makes this unviable. 

But the author says our size isn't the only reason.

"We have really neglected public media for years. So we spend far less supporting independent media than Australia. They spend about three times as much per capita, and in the UK it's six times as much as New Zealand."

Broadcast Minister Kris Faafoi has stated the Government is working on a plan to "strengthen public media", but details remain scarce. Bunce says the broader issue is journalism being treated as a commercial product like entertainment rather than a core public service, like education. 

"Journalism plays a huge role supporting democracy even when there aren't huge crowds consuming that news," 

"If a journalist goes to a council meeting and observe council meetings those councillors are aware and reflective and they're less likely to misspend money just by the presence of that journalist being there. It's that sense of being watched and observed and scrutinised." 

But Bunce says the damages from journalism's decline are not equally spread.

"It is regional New Zealand that is most at risk here. The crisis of journalism is most affecting small towns and regions that struggle to support commercial media."  

One quick fix Bunce suggests is resurrecting New Zealand's news wire system which was shut down last year. 

"I know that doesn't sound very sexy but I think it's incredibly important. We used to have a system which took news from all around the country, had its own journalists, made news and then shared that information [between publications]."

But while she says the problems facing journalism is dire, hope is not lost.

"I don't think we're too late by any stretch. I think we just need people to realise how important it is."

Newshub Nation. 

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz