News agency NZPA to close

Last updated 06:55 07/04/2011

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New Zealand's national news service is set to close after more than 130 years of operation, at the cost of 40 journalists' jobs.

The New Zealand Press Association, which is owned by the country's daily newspaper publishers, provides news content for media outlets. It was founded in 1880, as the United Press Association, adopting its present name in 1942.

Last night NZPA said the future of its news wire service was being "reviewed" after Fairfax Media, one of its major shareholders, gave notice of its withdrawal from the co-operative.

NZPA chairman Michael Muir said the other major shareholder, APN, would be reviewing its own newspaper and online news services.

A final decision on the future of NZPA would be made at the end of the month after staff feedback had been considered. It would be "operating as usual" in the meantime.

Fairfax Media group executive editor Paul Thompson said the NZPA service was no longer as valuable as it had once been.

Fairfax had indicated it would withdraw from the news-sharing agreement in December. "We'd been looking at the value of the service to us for a long time. We are the biggest funder, obviously, because we're the biggest shareholder and we're the biggest publisher.

"As we have invested more in our own resources and our bureaus in particular ... the amount of duplication between our Fairfax content driven by our journalists and what NZPA provides has grown."

NZPA staff were briefed on the news at a meeting in Wellington last night. Outside the meeting, journalist Kent Atkinson said the loss of a national news agency was a sad day for the country.

NZPA was always dictated by news values, rather than advertising revenue, he said. "In future, the news that people see will be from a few large organisations, all of which have some reliance on paid advertising."

It was clearly signalled at the meeting that NZPA would be wound up by Christmas, he said.

Chairman Michael Muir said a final decision would be made at the end of this month after staff feedback had been considered. NZPA would be "operating as usual" in the meantime.

Visibly upset NZPA political reporter Maggie Tait, who has worked at the organisation for 11 years, said staff were "gutted".

She was not allowed to confirm whether staff had been told their jobs were gone, but said conclusions could be drawn based on current morale. "As you can see from our faces no-one is coming out of that meeting happy ... there are 40 staff at NZPA, and none of them are in a good mood right now."

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Fairfax's New Zealand chief executive Allen Williams said the company had been investing heavily in the development of unique content.

"News should not be treated as a commodity - media companies can and should establish points of difference with their coverage.

"Fairfax has made a choice to concentrate on development of its own unique content rather than subscribing for non-exclusive content from NZPA."

- The Dominion Post

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