Last week, writing of the decline in newspaper readership and Fairfax’s dilemma wanting to quit its New Zealand stable, I made a huge mistake. Referring to the Sunday Star Times which saw a 13% drop in sales over the last year to a still meaningful 60,000, I branded it a disgrace and admitted to being one of their lost subscribers during the year.
Well on Sunday one of my daughters turned up and said I’d better rethink on that and she handed me that day’s copy. My God, I couldn’t believe it. What a massive change and totally for the better, even including its new tabloid size. Basically, it was like a very good version of The Dominion-Post.
It was great to read Damien Grant again. Strong right wing voices are a rarity in Stuff newspapers, although in fairness the Dom’ does occasionally run the always sound Karl du Fresne contributions.
Offsetting Damien was Josie Pagani, a sensible leftie who marred an otherwise good piece on our infrastructural shortcomings with a silly assertion that Wellington was closed for the day following a freak rail accident. It wasn’t; instead commuters took cars and buses. But overall a fantastic improvement. I wish it well and shall re-subscribe.
How did all this come about? Well the answer became clear when I saw the new editor’s name, specifically Tracy Watkins. Hitherto she’d been the Dominion Post’s outstanding Political Editor. Then months ago, much to my distress, she’d vanished without explanation. Had she been murdered, joined a nunnery, been head-hunted abroad? We were not told but now the mystery of her disappearance has been clarified. There’s no doubt about it, Stuff made a first-class decision handing her the reins of its flagship asset. I hope they’re paying her heaps. All they need now is a top advertising team which the New Zealand Herald plainly enjoys. Do that and the Sunday Star Times alone would soon value up to the best offer Fairfax received (and declined) of $50m for their entire stable.
To illustrate the world-wide survival struggle facing newspapers, the Sunday Star-Times was selling 160,000 copies in 2010.
It’s rival the Herald on Sunday, today only marginally ahead of the Sunday Star-Times, was selling 94,000 and largely held on to its readerships, losing only 25%, since 2010. Compare that to the Sunday Star-Times massive (and deserved) 62% drop in sales.
But now with a highly competent editor on board the Star-Times, the battle for Sunday supremacy will be an interesting spectacle.