Gavin Ellis is a media consultant, commentator and researcher. He holds a doctorate in political studies. A former editor-in-chief of the New Zealand Herald, he is the author of Trust Ownership and the Future of News: Media Moguls and White Knights (London, Palgrave) and Complacent Nation (Wellington, BWB Texts). His consultancy clients include media organisations and government ministries. His Tuesday Commentary on media matters appears weekly on his site www.whiteknightnews.com
I had misgivings about writing on the arrival of New Zealand’s latest magazine, Woman. Should a male pass judgement on a publication clearly designed to serve the interests of the nation’s females?
By the time I got to page 80, I was thinking to myself: “I’ve got it wrong. Woman is about women, but it is not only for women.”
Profile after profile, feature after feature I found myself feeling curiously privileged because there is a form of intimacy about Sido Kitchin’s new magazine. Its writers are all women and their female subjects open up to them in revealing ways.
We learn shot-put Olympian Dame Valerie Adams (usually regarded as one tough cookie) faced emotional turmoil when her son required emergency treatment for Type 1 diabetes; one of the proudest achievements of one of our most recognisable scientists, Siouxsie Wiles, is being an egg donor; te reo champion Stacey Morrison realised the primal significance of the karanga was linked to the sound she made giving birth; and Stuff’s new owner Sinead Boucher grew up very aware her family did not have extra money for anything – the washing machine breaking down was an big deal.
These small revelations are woven into the word pictures that build a better understanding of these women through the magazine.
The intimacy also extends to the ways in which Woman treats its subjects. A feature on the resurgence of malu – traditional tattooing of thighs and knees – among Samoan women leaves the reader with a sense of being allowed a deeply personal cultural insight. And intimacy of a vastly different sort permeates Magenta’s Brown’s witnessing of her new boyfriend’s vasectomy (she fainted, and I felt tempted to do the same).
The magazine is predominantly people focused. Even topical features on Covid-19 are mini-profiles of women involved in or impacted by the pandemic.
Woman embodies a welcome thoughtfulness. It has identified a market gap that means it is unlikely to challenge New Zealand Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Day (Kitchin’s former Bauer charges before she was made redundant in the German company’s brutal New Zealand closure under the guise of the Covid shutdown). If it has any direct competitor it is likely to be Mindfood, but Michael McHugh’s equally thoughtful magazine is a monthly and Woman appears fortnightly.
Although a new girl in town, Woman’s line-up of writers contains familiar names like columnist Rosemary McLeod, childhood expert Suzy Cato, health writer Niki Bezzant, food writer Niki Wickes (with a welcome crop of straight-forward recipes) and writer Sarah-Kate Lynch. Lynch is editor of a forthcoming magazine in the School Road stable, a domestic travel magazine called Scout. Her funny Miranda-like column in the first issue of Woman is on why she should not be addressed as ‘Sir’.
Kitchin has, however, also introduced new voices: Stacey Morrison on te reo, former NZ hockey rep Gemma McCaw on wellness and broadcaster Polly Gillespie with a wider opinion brief.
The magazine has some nice touches, like repeating its labels in te reo Māori: Cover story (kōrero matua), Feature (kōrero Motuhake), Special Report (pūronga ahurei), Garden (mahi māra) and Comic Strip (waituhi).
It has high production values in its unusually large 225mm by 300 mm format and the portrait photography is one of its stronger features. It is unfortunate, therefore, that Woman follows the style adopted by magazines like the Listener in running picture credits in small vertical type alongside a photograph (sometimes so close to the spine you almost need to dismember the magazine to see who took the images). Photographers deserve better than that and, on many features, they should have equal billing with the writer.
The first issue is light on advertising – only 12 pages in the 124-page issue – but that is only to be expected. Woman was an unknown quantity until yesterday and companies are emerging uncertainly from pandemic restrictions. This issue should encourage commercial support.
It should also be well received by readers, as long as they know they are not buying a celeb-soaked skim read. Sido Kitchin is a skilled editor and publisher of consumer magazine titles and she knows how to encourage people to climb onboard.
At the risk of harping on…
Last Monday night the Better Public Media Trust organised an election debate via Zoom to discuss the major parties’ media policies.
There was broad commitment to the principles of public service media although, with the exception of the Green Party, it was policy-lite. There was very little detail.
It seems apparent that support for RNZ, TVNZ and Maori Television will be there in some form. And that is good news.
However, it is disappointing that news media do not rank as high policy priorities (even the Green Party’s policy is little more than an updating of their 2016 policy).
Even more disheartening is the lack of a holistic view of the media sector – public, private and cooperative – and its future overall development.
After watching the Zoom debate, I was all the more convinced of the need for a broad-church summit to map what is essentially the future survival of journalism in New Zealand. I’ve called it Bretton Woods #2 and I wish that someone in the political system would take up the challenge.
There was little enthusiasm expressed in the Better Public Media Trust debate to join Australia’s scheme that will force social media platforms to pay for the news content they appropriate. Legislation will be introduced in the Federal Parliament before the end of the year to set up the scheme.
There was good news a few days later, however, when a Paris appeals court issued an order requiring Google to negotiate with media groups in their long-running dispute over revenue from online news.
The decision appears to have spooked the social media giant as it has announced it is close to a deal to compensate French news producers. Google had refused to comply with new EU rules giving more copyright protection to media ﬁrms for news displayed on search engines and social media. France was the ﬁrst European country to ratify the law. In April, the French competition authority ordered Google to negotiate with the press in good faith — a ruling it appealed, accusing the authority of overstepping its jurisdiction. The appeals court sided with the competition authority.
Australia’s counterpart, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, tired of the social media platforms’ failure to negotiate acceptable terms with Australian publishers and sought the forthcoming law change.
The social media multinationals have been able to stare down individual countries that have sought compensation for appropriated news content. Spain, for example, backed off after being threatened with search and social media boycotts. The same threats have been made to Australia. It has not blinked, and the French decision will strengthen Canberra’s resolve. More countries may well join the fight.
There is strength in numbers. And New Zealand should count itself among them.
New Zealanders with experience on a world stage are a formidable force.
It’s good news that two of them are filling key vacancies in our news media organisations.
Washington Post correspondent Anna Fifield took up her role as editor of the Dominion Post yesterday. By the end of the year Al Jazeera and Bloomberg news executive Paul Yurisich will be in place as TVNZ’s head of news and current affairs.
Both bring to their respective roles the knowledge and experience garnered from years working in the most challenging news environments. Crucially, it is married with their innate understanding of what makes their fellow New Zealanders tick – the social, cultural and historical contexts that colour our view of the world and of ourselves.