New Zealand's 2 main newspaper groups discuss merging

AP News
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Posted: May 11, 2016 3:06 AM
New Zealand's 2 main newspaper groups discuss merging

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Facing declining revenues and changing reader habits, New Zealand's two main newspaper groups announced Wednesday they're discussing a merger that could end decades of competition and result in hundreds of job losses.

Under the proposal, a single company would publish most of New Zealand's metropolitan newspapers. That would mean readers from Auckland to Invercargill would end up reading many of the same stories on politics, business and sports.

If approved by regulators, the merger would combine the New Zealand newspapers, radio stations and websites owned by Fairfax Media and APN News & Media. Both companies, which are Australia-based, are seeking to divest their New Zealand assets and form them into a new, listed company.

APN publishes the country's biggest daily newspaper, The New Zealand Herald, while Fairfax publishes the next largest dailies, The Dominion Post and The Press. The companies also own two of the largest news websites, stuff.co.nz and nzherald.co.nz.

The companies say their businesses are complementary and the proposed merger would allow them to improve offerings to readers and advertisers.

But unions and observers worry about the potential loss of jobs and diverse viewpoints.

The move represents the latest retrenchment in Australia and New Zealand, where many media companies are struggling to adjust to a rapidly changing landscape.

Gavin Ellis, a media commentator and former editor-in-chief of The New Zealand Herald, said the upside of the proposed merger was that it would allow the newspapers to survive longer than if the companies tried to go it alone. The downside, he said, was the reduction in the variety and voices of journalists and opinion columnists.

The two companies have a combined New Zealand workforce of about 3,000. Ellis said there could potentially be hundreds of job losses as the groups eliminated duplication in everything from political coverage to sales.

To complete the merger, APN plans to separate its New Zealand holdings and list them on the New Zealand and Australian stock exchanges under the name NZME. Fairfax would then fold its New Zealand assets into NZME.

Ciaran Davis, the chief executive of APN, said the two companies had signed a memorandum of understanding.

The merger will need approval from New Zealand's Commerce Commission, which is tasked with ensuring business monopolies don't develop. Commission spokesman Christian Bonnevie said it hadn't yet received an application, which would typically take between six weeks and one year to process depending on its complexity.

In a trading update Wednesday, APN said market conditions have been challenging in New Zealand and its revenues were down 10 percent in the first quarter.

Fairfax Media, Australia's second-largest newspaper publisher, has laid off about 2,000 employees, or about one-fifth of its staff, since 2012 and erected pay walls for its flagship papers in a bid to boost revenue.

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Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.