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Big guns blindside start-up news business with ComCom info dump

Wednesday 30th November 2016

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The country's two largest news publishers blindsided a start-up competitor involving two of the country's most experienced journalists, publishing a marketing pitch for a revamped Newsroom service as part of their submissions supporting the merger of NZME and Fairfax NZ.

BusinessDesk broke the news to Newsroom's Tim Murphy late yesterday that marketing materials about the venture, which the former New Zealand Herald editor-in-chief is fronting with the former head of news for TV3, Mark Jennings, were public on the Commerce Commission's website among materials jointly lodged by NZME and Fairfax.

The commission last month issued a draft determination rejecting the proposed merger on the basis that it would threaten 'media plurality' - the range of voices, opinions and issues that the news media might cover - and produce an outcome that was not in the public interest. It will hold a public conference next week to hear submissions on the proposal.

The NZME/Fairfax submissions lodged yesterday argue the merger will enhance plurality because it is more likely to ensure their commercial survival in a news industry where shrinking revenues are threatening traditional business models, and that professional editors and journalists conform to principles of plurality as a matter of course. They argue also that new sources of news are emerging.

Releasing the Newsroom pitch appears to have been part of its effort to prove that media plurality was alive and well with or without the merger, with the Newsroom document suggesting that "doubt over the future of NZME and Fairfax will increase the demand for (an) alternative site".

While publication of their pitch was a surprise, Newsroom is front-footing the disclosure today, explaining the initiative through a variety of independent news and marketing websites, including The Spinoff and StopPress.

Murphy and Jennings are joined in the initiative by economic journalist and commentator Bernard Hickey, formerly of Hickey will bring his daily exclusive HiveNews newsletter into the Newsroom stable, which will be built on the bones of the Newsroom media-monitoring service bought in 2014 by tech entrepreneur Selwyn Pellett, who had intended to merge it with the Scoop website.

The new Newsroom material reveals the independent publisher of the Otago Daily Times, Allied Press, is also involved in the project, which will be funded by a combination of corporate sponsorship, university partnerships, and public funding for video news elements, as well as advertising and 'voluntary audience micro-payments'.

The site's appeal is "in-depth news for thinking people" who are "dispirited by New Zealand media offerings" because "mainstream media have largely withdrawn from quality news about our society".

In a post to StopPress, Murphy says the initiative was two to three weeks away from launch anyway and the early release of detail has been a spur to get things under way.

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