Faced with an imperilled media industry, New Zealanders are voting with their wallets and funding journalism at an unprecedented level.
The heartening response to a crisis in journalism has been demonstrated by Press Patron, a homegrown crowdfunding service.
In January, subscribers to the platform collectively distributed $2500 a day to their choice of emerging and non-traditional media outlets.
Over the past four weeks, contributions have jumped ten-fold to $25,000 a day.
"It's been huge," Alex Clark, Press Patron's founder told AAP.
"In the past six months we've doubled our all-time revenue and we're on track to double again in the next three months.
"Media have been honest about their advertising crash ... and readers have responded by saying 'we value you, and we're going to fund you'."
Press Patron's growth could see more than $10,000,000 distributed to Kiwi media outlets this year, and has lured establishment players into the next-gen scheme.
New Zealand's oldest daily newspaper, the Otago Daily Times of Dunedin, has joined up in the hope of adding a new revenue source. Others are expected to follow.
But this green shoot is one of few reasons for hope.
For decades, advertising has formed the backbone of most media outlets, both in New Zealand and abroad.
As coronavirus-prompted lockdowns freeze business operations, their capacity to advertise has disappeared.
Given many in the New Zealand media industry are already teetering on the brink of unprofitability or insolvency, there are grave fears for more publications, outlets and jobs.
Consider the positions of the five biggest media companies; Mediaworks, Stuff, NZME, Sky and Bauer.
Mediaworks, which runs New Zealand's only commercial free-to-air television channel Three, was already up for sale.
Bosses have tabled pay cuts of at least 15 per cent across its whole suite of employees in the hope of staving off redundancies, or worse.
Stuff, the country's biggest news website, is also up for sale by Australian owners Nine.
Wide-ranging media business NZME, which owns Stuff's print rivals NZ Herald, has spooked staff with forced leave and and redundancy offerings, having already closed the country's only dedicated sports station.
Another media titan, subscription broadcasters Sky, is in jeopardy after the suspension of live sport, with the real prospect of its blue-chip offering - the All Blacks - being out of action for the year and offering no return on its big-money investment.
And the fifth, Bauer, is no more.
The German-owned publishing house, which owned the New Zealand Women's Weekly and other locally-beloved titles, has closed its doors at the cost of a reported 237 jobs.
"It's a massive shock and one to the entire print publishing sector," Victoria University of Wellington's Peter Thompson told AAP.
"It's an absolute tragedy they've swung the axe so viciously."
The crisis arrives during a time of policy paralysis by Jacinda Ardern's government.
Ardern's first Communications Minister, Clare Curran, cited "intolerable pressures" of the ministry as she resigned a year into the role - resetting the government's media policy agenda.
Her successor, Kris Faafoi, is 18 months in the hotseat and like Ms Curran, has been fixated on issues facing publicly owned media - television offering TVNZ and radio outlet RNZ - rather than private media.
Last year, Mr Faafoi brought together senior executives from New Zealand's major players for a number of the off-the-record gatherings.
All were hopeful it could inform a new government strategy.
Instead, Mr Faafoi's delayed response was an under-cooked proposal to merge TVNZ and RNZ, which exasperated media chiefs expecting measures that might offer privately-owned media a chink of blue sky to look towards.
"Everyone in the private sector just went 'Oh. That was all were working on this entire time'," one industry insider told AAP.
"He's a great listener and he said he was going to get something done. It never translates into anything."
Tax subsidies and waving of government fees have been mooted as easy short-term measures to ease the squeeze.
Back at Press Patron, Mr Clark has another suggestion for government.
"What should be done as soon as possible is the establishment of a dollar-for-dollar government match from our subscribers," he said.
"It incentivises the public to contribute and it streamlines government funding. You're embracing the wisdom of the crowd and you're helping regular citizens direct their own taxpayer funding back to publishers."
Mr Clark has put this proposal to government but is yet to get a response.
On Monday, Ms Ardern could not point to any demonstrable progress on media reforms since Bauer's exit a fortnight ago but said "conversations were ongoing".
"We do see this as an issue that we need to treat with some urgency ... it is something we are working on in earnest," she said.
Dr Thompson said the ball was firmly in the government's court.
"The government has to start taking a very hard look into what it might do to help protect the public interest media in New Zealand beyond RNZ, TVNZ and Maori TV," he said.
Duncan Greive, managing editor at much-loved website The Spinoff - one of the beneficiaries of the Press Patron surge - said he could understand the difficulties facing government.
"The industry has been in need of an intervention for a while. But that needs to help everyone from a community newspapers, to iwi radio stations, right up to an NZME or Stuff," he told AAP.
"It's frustrating that last year's consulting went nowhere but no one is unaware of just how tight (the industry's margins) are now.
"I'm optimistic that with all of those people paying attention, something could happen and quickly."
Australian Associated Press
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