Our local council’s budget overruns could fund all of NZ journalism

by Peter Newport - Mar 09, 2024


As New Zealand mainstream news organisations face closures and drastic cutbacks, the situation is far worse in the regions.

There’s no doubt that we are now facing an extinction event in the absence of any Government support and the success of conspiracy theorists in turning journalists into some sort of monsters with a “secret agenda” to support some hidden cause that nobody is quite sure of.

The truth is that journalists are normal people trying to do an increasingly impossible job. The more experienced we are the more we realise that politicians, PR practitioners and lobbyists of any kind – right, left, middle or just plain crazy – are all as good or bad as each other.

We don’t actually care about celebrated political causes or the flavour of the day. We've seen it all before.

Our job is to tell the truth and ever since the dawn of time the people who don’t want that truth published have been singing the same song – it’s not news, its biased, journalists are being paid by x, y or z – and so on – ad nauseum. Our job is to expose the bad guys and champion community members for their triumphs - big or small. We are here to hold power to account. 

But we have families, mortgages to pay – lives to live. There’s not many of us left now in New Zealand. Perhaps less than a thousand journalists in the whole country after these latest cuts. We are outnumbered by around 10 to 1 by PR/comms people who block our every attempt to tell the truth. It's what they get paid to do.

Our local council, the Queenstown Lakes District Council, with less than 40,000 ratepayers, continues to spend money like there's no tomorrow, with their budget overruns alone running close to $150 million a year. That’s not including the projects themselves – often local vanity projects of little core value, funded at the expense of clean water and decent public transport.

Just that $150 million overspend, by one small local council, could allow all of New Zealand journalism to survive for another year.

When that same local council has trouble telling us the truth about their overspend, their mistakes and their focus on hiring 300 extra people over the past three years – doubling their staff – we are starting to consider the gloves coming off.

We hope you will forgive us as we fight for our lives and for local democracy. After all - we think you'll miss us when we are gone. 

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