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Christchurch's Star Media is counting down the days to Level 3

Nikki Carroll
steve star media2 v3
Steve McCaughan, Regional Manager, Star Media  Star Media

When the country entered lockdown, community papers were considered an essential service, but that was reversed almost immediately due to fear of virus transmission through the distribution process

Steve McCaughan, Regional Manager of Star Media, says at the time the company was devastated by the Government's change of heart as it had been publishing weekly for 152 years through both World Wars, the Spanish flu and the Christchurch earthquakes.

Cabinet's March 30 announcement allowing papers that serve isolated and rural communities to publish, under very strict guidelines, meant Star Media could keep its three regional publications operating - the Ashburton Courier, North Canterbury News and the Selwyn Times.

An upside of the lockdown is that the company's digital media products have captured a lot of new interest and visitors.

The audience engagement with its website starnews.co.nz has sky-rocketed and is heading towards 500,000 views, while its Facebook page has one of the largest profiles in the New Zealand media world with nearly 113,000 followers.

In spite of the world currently living through history, people are beginning to focus on news other than COVID-19, with a local car crash story featuring on the website on Monday having the biggest hits so far.

Photos taken by reporter Jess Gibson for the website’s pictorial grab ‘Life in Lockdown’ are also getting very high engagement. 

Mr McCaughan is incredibly proud of how his team are working remotely during this period – getting the job done, gathering stories and getting them published under difficult circumstances.

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Newspaper delivery flickr.com

 

The overall readership figures for all the weekly papers taken just prior to lockdown is still higher than the current internet engagement. 

Mr McCaughan believes this is probably because there is a large percentage of the Canterbury community, especially those over 65, who do not have easy access to the internet.

Star Media can begin publishing its city weekly papers, along with its regional ones, from next Tuesday under Alert Level 3. However, these won’t be issued in the normal cycle and will be operating under a unique delivery premise, closely following Government guidelines.

Mr McCaughan says no media organisation is going to come out of this period in the place they were before New Zealand went into lockdown. 

They are all going to need to be very forward-thinking to re-establish themselves in the market.

However, his words of wisdom for those considering a career in journalism is to not be overly concerned about the future of media.

"It will always be important to have platforms to connect communities and to hold those in power accountable.”