NZ Media Profile: Reporter, editor and media executive Rick Neville

‘New Zealand commercial media is in a lot of trouble and needs that help.’

Rick Neville trained as a journalist in 1968 and is in his 50th year in media.

His career as a reporter, editor and executive has encompassed editorial and business, and a lifelong suspicion about state regulation of the media.

For the past four years he has been in a part-time role as editorial director of the Newspaper Publishers’ Association.

Neville was in senior management for the former Murdoch-controlled INL, and at APN News and Media, publisher of the NZ Herald.

A champion of independence, he says it is now time for Kiwi politicians to follow Australia’s lead, and give financial support for regional newspapers. Australia had announced $60.4 million in a three-year package of assistance for regional media.

“New Zealand commercial media is in a lot of trouble and needs that help, and we (the NPA) will be asking for it,” he told Mediaweek.

“There is a danger to democracy if too many newspapers fold in secondary towns and cities – papers that inform citizens,” Neville says.

The NPA editorial director criticises increased government funding of state media, especially Radio NZ: “We (the NPA) don’t think it is appropriate to fund state media at a time commercially funded media is in a lot of trouble.”

He maintains newspapers given funding will remain independent.

But newspapers, who once took the high ground, are joining broadcasters who have been accessing generous programming subsidies for nearly three decades.

Neville has long played a key role in keeping print media standards self-regulated through the Press Council.

The Press Council was recently expanded to include broadcaster websites, and renamed The Media Council. It’s a matter of some pride to him that the Press Council has survived a legislative push for a bigger state role in media standards.

Part of its success has been that it had support of all publishers. “In that, we have done better than the Press Council in Australia,” Neville says.

Neville’s first job was at the Taranaki Herald in New Plymouth, his home town. He later worked as a Parliamentary reporter for the Dominion newspaper, the Wellington morning daily, and says, “It is the best job I have ever had.”

At 31, he was editor of the Nelson Evening Mail, then shifted to edit the capital afternoon paper, The Evening Post, before being shifted to a senior management roles for Independent Newspapers Ltd ( now Stuff), 40% owned by News Corporation.

When INL’s longtime boss Mike Robson died, Newscorp appointed Bryan Mogridge and Neville was appointed managing director of the Adelaide Advertiser. He returned to NZ in 2003, and was consultant to the creation of the NZ Herald’s mid-market compact the Herald on Sunday. Later, he took senior roles at NZ Herald owner, APN News and Media, including chief operating officer of the newspaper operation. So he is a newspaper man. Neville acknowledges it is tough for newspapers in the current environment. “But I am not in the doomsday camp. The big thing is to keep providing local news,” he said.

“Newspaper culture is changing, with fewer reporters filling an arduous digital cycle. As a reporter, I worked hard, but it was much less than I do now,” Neville said.

“You could file your story and go to the pub,” he added. Despite public criticism about the level of clickbait, newspapers are investing in quality content. But it was inevitable that coverage of courts and local bodies was less. There were going to be gaps.

“It’s a funny thing, You don’t know what you’re missing when you don’t see it.”

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