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I think it's fair to say that the news publishing industry has been adversely affected by the power of the Net.
News publishers were once corporate giants. Companies that commanded huge fees for advertising in their rags and during their broadcasts had the ability to turn strong profits year after year.
Until the internet came along.
Now we see virtually all of the major news publishers struggling to find ways to maintain profitability.
What's worse, they're slashing costs in the worst possible ways -- replacing seasoned journalists with interns and swapping in-depth investigative reporting for "newsbites" and relabeled press releases.
The circulation of printed editions is falling like a brick and attempts to generate revenues by way of firewalls on websites seem to have had very limited success.
Is it any wonder therefore, that news publishers are looking to diversify?
However, we must ask ourselves... is it ethical for a news publisher to operate outside of their core business and if they do, what does this mean for readers?
Here in NZ, the best example of a news publisher that is trying to redefine itself and generate profits in a very difficult market is Stuff.co.nz.
Just about the only good news Stuff has had in a while would have been the redesign of the NZ Herald website into something that is so god-damned awful that I very rarely even bother with it any more. That means I have changed allegiance from NZH to Stuff for my regular news browsing and that has to mean more ad revenue -- except that I have disabled the outrageous auto-play video ads on Stuff so they've shot themselves in the foot there.
Fighting fires on all fronts, Stuff have obviously decided that when it comes to the Net, perhaps they should take a bob each way when it comes to revenue -- so some time ago they launched Stuff Fibre, a UFB ISP that goes head-to-head with Spark, Orcon and a raft of other players in the NZ marketplace.
Clearly that wasn't enough for Stuff so they have recently announced that they're getting into the power retailing business also, by taking a 49 percent stake in EnergyClubNZ.
Now when a company finds its core business under threat, diversification is generally a sensible option to consider -- however, in the case of a news publisher I think it's a huge no-no.
Nobody worried too much when Fairfax bought TradeMe because, let's be honest, TradeMe is a virtual monopoly so editorial bias on the part of Stuff wasn't going to be too much of an issue due to the lack of competition in the online auction marketplace.
However, when your news publisher also becomes and ISP and a power company, huge questions must be asked about just how objective, impartial and unbiased its reporting will be on matters pertaining to these industries.
I'm sure Stuff.co.nz will give all the assurances under the sun that their editorial policies will remain unaffected by this diversification but, as we all know, perception is the new reality and there will always be a perception that the publisher will favour its own interests.
This move on the part of stuff brings the integrity of the fourth estate into question and I'm surprised that there has been so little outcry from within and outside the news industry.
Perhaps those who say "there is no such thing as news, only marketing" are finally proven correct.
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