More needed to ensure survival of morning newspaper routine

Local papers, including those for farmers, are a bonus for those living in the regions. PHOTO:...
Local papers, including those for farmers, are a bonus for those living in the regions. PHOTO: ODT FILES
We remember the sounds of our childhood. "Thump" is one.

An early morning thump as the newspaper hits the veranda. And no ordinary thump. Rolled up and given a twist in the middle, a paper packs a punch.

And no fancy plastic wrapping in those days. The paper bloke’s throw unerringly found the waterproof shelter of the veranda every time. They probably had paper throwing championships, but I was too young to know about that.

The thump was my alarm clock. I grabbed the paper before any adult could snaffle it and delay my enjoyment. This was after my Janet and John days when the charms of "see Janet run" had worn off a bit.

Of course, there were headlines in the paper which didn’t interest me much, such as "Stalin dead". Comic strips were rare in those days and the "children’s pages" always seemed to be aimed at an audience of do-goody 4-year-olds.

What I enjoyed were reports on local sport and the occasional news item which impinged on my lifestyle — "St Patrick’s Day concert a great success" or "Entry to council swimming bath increased to 2 pence".

Classified advertisements were a big part of newspapers then and provided a rich source of entertainment, especially for a 10-year-old ill-versed in the ways of the world.

"Gent. 60s. Non-smoker. Enjoys theatre, walks. Seeks female companion. View matrimony. Write Box 23."

What, I wondered, has happened to the romance that the mushier films portrayed?

The great newspaper achievement, of course, was to get your name in the paper.

A couple of times I managed it with third prize in English composition in the standards, but the big one was to get your picture in the paper.

For me it was Arbor Day in 1958 when I was portrayed, along with a dozen other kids, watching some local dignitary planting a tree.

I treasured one which had Bert Sutcliffe showing us kids how to bat — in my case, a waste of time. All this stuff my mother carefully cut from the paper, carefully stored in a folder and then carefully lost when we moved house.

Newspapers have remained a habit. In town, it was the Otago Daily Times and The Star, and when I moved to the country, I made sure the ODT was delivered each day despite a small rural delivery fee. The postie, noticing I was hanging around the mailbox each morning, asked if I’d like her to drop off the other papers which filled her van. Of course I would!

So began a paper paradise. On Friday, The News is an extra which covers Central Otago, and Tuesday is the big day. That’s when the farming papers arrive, usually half a dozen of them. I read them all and can now give sound advice to the local cockies about their farming practices. I never hesitate to remind them about checking their ewe equivalents for footrot or pointing them to a really effective drench which gives a healthy faecal egg count. They stare at me, speechless. Little do they know that it’s newspapers that have turned me into a rural guru.

I once worked in a newsroom which subscribed to a dozen newspapers. If a cat was rescued from a tree by firefighters in Kaitaia or Felicity Fanshaw of Fairlie had grown a cucumber which had made the Guinness World Records, we knew about it because the local paper had run the stories — but gathering such news has never been cheap.

Even today, should anything of note happen in Patearoa, an ODT reporter will travel from Alexandra, talk to those involved, take some pictures and then file a story before or after heading back to Alex.

If the story is quirky enough it will be picked up and run on their websites by people such as Meta (Facebook) and Google, usually without payment. Certainly, without employing a journalist, as those organisations employ no journalists in New Zealand.

Media leaders (who do employ journalists) were fronting up to a select committee last week during submissions on the Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill, which would create a binding arbitration process if offshore digital platforms and local news media companies don’t agree on deals for news content.

Media Minister Melissa Lee said, before the election, that she did not support the Bill but at least it is now before a committee. Media bosses have put up the case for payment for their product, while a retired judge argued existing copyright law was sufficient to deal with their concerns, so it’s not an easy question for MPs to resolve.

In the end, we are talking survival, and the select committee needs to be aware of the strong feelings of those who start their day with a real newspaper, like this one, in their hands.

— Jim Sullivan is a Patearoa writer.