The following post is sure to raise the ire of a good many people who I probably have much in common with. I have largely kept these ideas under wraps due to the high profile enjoyed by The Marketplace in the community at this time. I have voiced the views expressed here to small groups and invariably I have been answered with uncomfortable silence. A few people have quietly told me they agree, but there seems to be a taboo on openly expressing these thoughts.
I feel compelled to state that the views expressed here relate in no way to a personal political opinion, although I know right now that that is the basis on which I will be attacked- that I am merely expressing “The Leftie Point of View”. How convenient to reduce a detailed argument to a red or blue/green dichotomy. I urge people to avoid succumbing to this simplistic portrayal because the whole point of the article is about how we as an island have been manipulated into taking sides and how much this has cost the island as a whole. This is about a local newspaper dependent for its survival on its readers and local advertisers up against a goliath of a newspaper corporation. Most communities have lost their authentic local voice. I wonder how long we will be able to hold onto ours if we carry on with our current delusion that we can get something for nothing without any terrible cost to ourselves.If you are going to criticize this article please feel free…. but take the time to address the points raised accurately rather than blasting out a knee jerk political condemnation.
I remember the early days of the Marketplace. In 2002 they were engaged in a full-on campaign to take down the Gulf News by the sheer force of their false advertising. Does anyone else remember the paper’s heading at the time? “Largest circulation on the island” as if stating such an erroneous claim in such a bald-faced fashion could make its false assertion true. To be more accurate, they PRINTED more copies of their weekly rag, which were given away for free to anyone who would take them. In the heady, early days, such bolshy statements were pervasive throughout the weekly pages of the Marketplace. Blowing one’s own horn seemed to be the business model at the time, that and having the deep pockets to throw money out the door in the vain hope that someday some would stick. This hope died hard, but eventually reality crept in and the paper had to be sold off to a conglomerate that specialized in fronting for the real estate business.
These types of property rags have long been around, but less often do they receive the reverence accorded The Marketplace on Waiheke. By virtue of the force of personality, this second rate, parochial rag has played its part as an element in creating the divisiveness in Waiheke Politics. My assertion is that as long as Waiheke coddles this paper, pays it money to advertise, gives it copy to print, and picks it up off the stand or has it delivered, then Waiheke is feeding the cancer that is destroying it.
Waiheke does not carry a large enough population to support two paying newspapers. That fact is evident in the reality that one paper has never charged readers a price for picking it up. The old adage that when you pick something up for free then you can bet you are the commodity being exploited is fully in evidence here. Shaping the readers view of the island as a more divided, partisan place than it actually is, is its goal. Regardless of whether one likes or dislikes the articles contained within, the reader comes away with the notion that there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ on the island, and thus the paper’s goal is accomplished.
The Marketplace is a Tinkerbell newspaper. It has no legitimacy therefore it must ingratiate itself with its public by offering itself for free. The minute everyone decides simply to not pick it up, not advertise in it, not read its duplicate ‘news’ stories, it dies forever. The Marketplace is completely dependent on another age-old truism- that people like to think they are getting something for nothing. That is the premise the Marketplace is based on.
But lets look at the true cost to the community, besides the degradation of public discourse into a Fox News-esque false dichotomy of Right vs. Left. The Gulf News is the newspaper reliant on and responsible to its readers, but its income is sliced in half or worse by the splitting of ad revenues with the faux newspaper. The Marketplace, funded from off island sources, which are fundamentally indifferent to the island’s culture and needs, can pull in added revenue based on its backing and its business model, which says- “Everyone likes a free newspaper, so your advertising dollars will go a long way with us”. This keeps continual pressure on an authentic local news organization which cannot rely on copy from its parent organization, subsidy to cover hard times, staffing, and the various perks enjoyed by a franchise of a large organization.
That The Marketplace has been unable to bury the Gulf News in over 10 years of draining its revenue should tell everyone that all is not rosy with the aforementioned business model- it is deeply flawed. If it were true that one could gain market advantage by giving a paper away then we would have only the Marketplace to read now. It’s funny that everything is contained in the faux paper’s title- it is not news, it is a marketplace vehicle, whose services are replicated by the small town newspaper’s classified section anyway. So it actually serves no unique purpose.
Over time, the long game played in grinding the Gulf News down has taken its toll, with high staff turnover there, and a large burden placed on the few journalists employed at any one time. I can hear people now blithely declaring that all markets benefit from competition. I will counter that claim with Gresham’s Law. The free bad newspaper eventually drives out the good local newspaper, due to the true cost of putting a newspaper out not being absorbed by Marketplace. So it is not fair competition, it is a PR campaign dressed up as competition using unfair market advantage and hiding behind the false claim of free and competitive markets.
Like Fox-News is a faux, branded look-alike to an actual news organization with the twist that it is a propaganda machine for a particular political view, so the Marketplace is a propaganda vehicle for its vested interests, supporting their candidates and constituents in a mutual back patting exercise. Being such a partisan paper, it assuages its guilty conscience by constantly declaring the Gulf News to be partisan- just another example of the guilty pointing the finger anywhere but at themselves. The Marketplace has an agenda, which is easily recognized, however everyone has bought into the mantra that if one wants to reach the whole island, then one must advertise or publicize in the Marketplace. Has anyone ever stopped to examine for themselves whether this bit of conventional wisdom is true to any significant extent? It is rather like today’s big multinational banks telling us that we need them, loudly and often. It does make one wonder if they protest rather more than necessary to keep everyone from discovering that they are not, in fact, necessary at all.
The Gulf News has towed a delicate line lo these many years, and has countered the brash horn- blowing by The Marketplace by going about its work and garnering recognition from the various press organizations, letting their awards tell the story. I have heard the personal and professional criticisms leveled at GN over the years, to which I would counter- However imperfect the staff or product delivered at any particular time, the value of a local, independent outlet for the community’s voice is incalculable. If everyone simply stopped clapping for the Tinkerbell Rag and put their full advertising/news copy weight behind their own local paper, instead of constantly hedging their bets, then we could hold that paper to an even higher standard and expect even more from them than we do now. If people are unhappy with the Gulf News, they should work at holding its feet to the fire, rather than cutting and running to the paper next door. And finally, if we keep on with the charade that the island can sustain two competing news outlets we stand a greater chance of losing both in the end.
As for the fallout to the local economy, I can’t see any downside- local businesses and even real estate agencies would save money on the current duplicity in advertising. Staff would be readily absorbed by the existing newspaper and the news coverage can only improve with sufficient revenue.