Another blow to Kiwi journalism

More redundancies in the country's biggest newsroom; the Listener to lose a staff writer as well

Not content with smashing its fist into our election campaign, the global credit crunch has now taken a swing at this country's media.

A handful of journalism jobs are to be culled from the country's biggest newspaper and most respected magazine, after the announcement of yet another redundancy round at APN.

Australian Provincial Newspapers–the publishers of the New Zealand Herald newspaper and website and the Listener amongst other titles–has announced it's making "a small number of staff reductions". I'm told that means three or four journalists from the Herald and one from the Listener. Some staff are also expected to go from The Herald on Sunday, but it's not yet clear how many.

The company has put out a statement to staff saying, "The move to review staff numbers follows a dip in the advertising market in New Zealand which has been affected by the economic recession and low business and consumer confidence.Employer recruitment activity and real estate property sales – two major contributors to newspaper revenue – are well down year on year as the general economy has contracted".

Staff are pretty rattled, but the few I've spoken to are resorting to the usual gallows humour. They're not yet sure who will go, but the company says they're not accepting volunteers – meaning they have some people, positions, or at very least some departments in mind. If they take four from the Herald, a reasonable guess would be for them to take one each from the features department, Business, regions, and the Auckland newsroom. Online has already lost a couple of staff recently, so they look to be spared this time round.

The company wants the redundancies completed before Christmas.

The journalists I talk to are saying that they expect more in the new year, although where you could trim the staff from without harming the publications, I have no idea. Still, this round can only harm quality. There's no fat left to trim. So I guess management is well past that point already. These publications will just get worse.

It looks like the staff writer to go from the Listener will be from the Auckland office – the magazine only has one left in Wellington and has only ever had one in Christchurch. The Listener will be down to six staff writers, with four left in Auckland (including the designated TV writer Fiona Rae); Joanne Black in Wellington; and Rebecca Macfie in Christchurch. That's half the general staff writers at the magazine in the 90s.

The Herald newsroom has about 18 journalists left, staff tell me; that's also about half the number of staff that worked there in the 90s.

It's hard to condemn companies laying off staff in these troubled times. We know how hard it is. But APN announced a A$72m profit in the period to June 30 this year and is still able to pay dividends to shareholders. Do staff really have to be the first to suffer?

Both the newspaper and magazine have been boasting of readership growth this year. But frankly, readership numbers are a mixture of voodoo and fog, and it's falling circulation that's the crucial real issue. That, and the fact that advertisers are cutting back as they try to survive the lean times.

It's another sore wound for this country's journalists, following Fairfax's lay-offs not that long ago. And if that's not bleak enough, the majority of the journalism students graduating from the AUT course this year haven't got work to go to.

The widely-admired Texan columnist Molly Ivins complained, shortly before her death last year, that the newspaper companies’ response to their decline in revenue and sales was to make “our product smaller and less helpful and less interesting.”

If it seems like bad business, that's because it is. I add my voice to her complaint.