New Zealand Herald owner NZME is deciding this week who stays and who goes among a clutch of senior editors facing redundancy or redeployment.

As the axe falls, there has been staff concern about the future quality of the newspapers and weekly magazines Viva, Travel, Canvas and Reset.

As editing oversight is reduced for the lifestyle magazines, and their curation and production becomes standardised, automated and templated, concerns have been raised internally about what the sections will look like and how much focus will be retained on aligning with valued advertisers.

Feedback to the paper’s editorial restructuring proposal asked if the changes to curation of these premium magazine inserts would be communicated to advertisers. The response: “From an advertiser’s perspective, we don’t see a need to broadly communicate the restructure as it won’t have an impact on them day-to-day.”

Staff also asked if readers of the award-winning magazine sections would be told of changes and got the same answer: “We don’t believe we need to inform the readers of the change.”

The Herald‘s ‘Media Insider’ column did make public yesterday the names of four of the five editors so far opting not to stay with the newsroom in changed and, in some cases, diminished roles.

The driving force of Viva magazine and its online, paywalled product, Amanda Linnell, will go, as will the Canvas magazine editor, Sarah Daniell, as well as the head of editorial operations, Laura Franklin, and the key person in the paper’s content planning, David Rowe. Rowe is in the middle of leading the Herald‘s election coverage, one of two major priorities alongside the Rugby World Cup, announced earlier in the year to staff. Another has also opted to go.

But it seems the effect of the departures of Linnell and Daniell and the new ways of curating their magazines won’t be communicated to advertisers who’ve backed these two premier sections.

NZME’s “private and confidential” consultation document on its Project New Horizon says journalists working in the lifestyle section will be able to “pitch for their stories to be branded as Viva, Canvas, Reset or the general Herald… the asset that makes our magazines great will continue as it does today – great content”.

The changes overall aim to separate the Herald‘s print products off to be managed by what is effectively a twilight team, managing decline into 2030 and beyond while the business focuses on digital ads and subscriptions.

Staff consulted on the plan didn’t immediately agree that great content would necessarily continue.

They “expressed disappointment over magazine editors being disestablished and pitted against each other”.

They also highlighted worries that the editors’ removal would:

– devalue the print product and impact revenue

– impact commercial revenue and advertising relationships

– impact media partnerships and collaboration with cultural organisations

– reduce trust and respect in the title

– affect the ability of the proposed structure to offer the “same level of personalised service to clients”.

The company’s response said the responsibility for commercial success sat largely with the commercial team, not editorial staff. “There is also nothing stopping our journalists within reporter rounds being active in their industries and continue to build relationships that deliver commercial and editorial benefits.”

Under the new structure, it claimed, editors would spend more time on leadership and content planning and quality, shorn of the bothers of the print editions’ production.

The number of lifestyle stories produced would also drop from between 200 and 220 a week to 160-180 under the change.

NZME told staff around 20 percent of current lifestyle stories received fewer than 1000 views and attracted no subscribers.

The overall menu aims for “less bespoke design” and urges staff to “report and manage story length compliance”. 

Stories for the new print editions would be fitted into spots determined in advance on the pages.

The company also indicated the move for efficiency could see questions over the late Herald Auckland edition – called the ‘C’ edition internally and covering breaking news. “No C edition equals more resource earlier in the day, we print another job in the hour of freed-up press time.”

Staff in the news side of the Herald raised concerns about the firm’s digital-first approach having an “excessive focus” on performance measures – the number of stories reporters (“content producers”) must write daily and the number of page views they must attract on those stories. 

NZME told them data was important but would be used carefully. Staff would consider data but “still use their own expertise, knowledge, passion and skills” to decide the best stories to chase and how to produce them. That would include stories that might not be popular and advocacy journalism.

The juggling act for NZME is how to gradually reduce the cost of producing the Herald and its regional papers but not endanger too soon the 40 percent of the company’s revenue that comes from print through advertising (in which Travel has been a major contributor). “We do not have a view of when print will finish. We have and continue to update a long range plan that shows print remains profitable past 2030.”

* The word ‘editor’ has won a bit of a reprieve in the feedback process. An organisation chart in the feedback document shows various higher-level editorial staff will now be accorded ‘managing editor’ status last held by former editorial head Shayne Currie, and the Chief Content Officer, Publishing, Murray Kirkness is recognised (as a secondary title beneath his executive CCOP) as Editor in Chief. 

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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