Sunday, June 28, 2020

Stuff turns 20

Stuff's current logo.
I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t normally comment on a news company’s anniversary, and certainly not the anniversary of its website’s launch. However, this one is something I have a somewhat indirect connection to: Yesterday the Stuff website turned 20.

In 2000, I was working for INL (Independent Newspapers Ltd), the company that launched the Stuff website. I was working for the Auckland division that published the Sunday Star-Times and Sunday News Sunday papers, along with the weekly tabloid/gossip paper, NZ Truth, the racing titles Friday Flash, Best Bets, and Turf Digest, along with some magazines, the biggest of which was NZ TV Guide (there was another Auckland-based division that published a stable of magazines).

When the website launched, we were given some swag (which I still have somewhere), and our own internal company site, Our Stuff, which had, among other things, stuff, as it were, about the company and the industry.

Not long afterward, our division was rebranded “INL Sundays” (which, we joked, made us sound like an ice cream shop). The company began internal reviews that resulted in job losses at other divisions, so when it was out turn, my teammates and I joined a union (I mentioned that in a post about unions back in 2014).

Not long after that, in June 2003, the company was sold to Australian media conglomerate Fairfax Media. I transferred to another division shortly afterward (which I’d planned ahead of time), and left the company altogether the end of that year.

In July 2018, Fairfax merged with Australian media conglomerate Nine Entertainment Co. (which had once owned New Zealand TV channel Prime). Nine made it clear it intended to sell its New Zealand assets, by then branded under the “Stuff” name, and that finally happened—after the lockdown—with a management buyout (for “one dollar”). Stuff now owns the Stuff website and all the surviving papers—the weeklies, Sunday Star-Times and the Sunday News, along with daily newspapers Dominion Post (Wellington), Christchurch Press (Christchurch), Waikato Times (Hamilton), plus a bunch of regional papers.

I basically stopped reading Stuff several years ago because so much of its content was shallow clickbait. I returned when the country’s biggest newspaper, The New Zealand Herald put up a paywall because I thought the paywall was a very bad deal, and its existence meant I could never be sure whether the Herald story I saw a link to was free or not, so I just stopped following links to the paper’s website. Instead, I started checking our other New Zealand news sites, including Stuff, among others.

Like most NZ mainstream news organisations, Stuff’s journalism is varied, especially when it comes to covering New Zealand politics, leading some to claim it has a rightward tilt—though not nearly as much so as the Herald. Maybe so—such things are mostly a matter of opinion. However, many of the company’s journalists are very good. For example, I think Henry Cooke is the best political reporter in New Zealand, an opinion I came to after reading his reports on US politics and election campaigns—the first NZ journalist I’d ever seen get it right. Given how complicated and labyrinthine US politics is, anyone who gets that right is bound to do well covering NZ politics, and he has. If only the politics journalists at competing major media companies were half as good, we’d have a decent newsmedia overall.

My connection to Stuff, then, is only that I worked for the corporation that started it, and in an entirely different division and city than where the site was born. Even so, I was keenly aware of its launch, and I relied on it for a long time. Then, it changed, I changed, and then we both did that some more, and now I’m back to checking them out frequently—though not every day. Another thing that’s changed over these 20 years is that I often need a break from all news, and I’m certainly not alone in that feeling.

Here’s to another 20 years of stuff from Stuff.

See also:

“Stuff turns 20: From unwanted child to biggest NZ website, the story of how Stuff grew up”
 – Stuff

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