Small town newspaper in New Zealand first with Google


Small town newspaper in New Zealand first with Google

The Westport News and a Kiwi technology firm are partnering in a New Zealand first to create a low cost model for small newspapers to migrate to innovative digital products, thanks to support and funding from the Google GNI Innovation Challenge.

VoxPop, the brainchild of Hawke’s Bay man Peter Fowler, applied to the Asia-Pacific Google News Initiative (GNI) for funding to build the subscription-based apps and website for The News. 

Fowler said The News, like so many newspapers, was critical to its community but faced a host of the challenges common to the industry. These included audiences moving to digital devices, the rise and proliferation of large social media platforms and the increasing price of newsprint. There are about 90 small community newspapers in NZ alone.

VoxPop, with the support of The News’ editor and co-owner Lee Scanlon, pitched the idea to Google to create mobile phone news apps and a website as part of a trial which could then be replicated for others in future. It is cost-prohibitive for most small outlets to create a digital subscriber service with an app store presence. 

“We are thrilled to be working with Google and The News to develop a super affordable way to help community publications further diversify what they do, so they can reach their audiences in a number of ways - whether online, in the newspaper or by listening in addition to reading. We want to help local journalism not only survive, but thrive,” Fowler said.  

Scanlon said The News would continue to be a proud print publication, but it also needed new ways to reach people.

“We have been in this community for almost 150 years, telling local stories and holding people to account. We want that to be the case for a long time to come. Part of that means moving with how audiences are behaving.

“We are very excited that Google has given the project the greenlight as it’s a vote of confidence in what we do everyday and the importance of journalism to communities such as ours.”

She said the apps, one for Apple and the other for Android-based phones, would include most of what was in the paper now but it was a chance to try a new thing or two, including news for the ear as well as the eye. The News also wanted to ensure advertisers had more choice in the future.

Fowler, who pioneered online subscription news services in the 1990s in NZ at newsroom.co.nz, will draw on this expertise to monetise the The News platform and produce an operational and revenue playbook for other scarcely-resourced newspapers to follow. 

“Trustworthy local news is a rare thing these days, but that also makes it more valuable to the local community.  We want to make this a great experience for the audience but also one that helps local businesses continue to reach the community.”

“Some of the secret sauce will be making it easy for Lee and her team to take what is in the newspaper now and have it appear pretty effortlessly in the apps, but also giving the audience and newsmakers the chance to engage with that content using voice or text,” Fowler said.

Scanlon said the apps would be developed with the help of the community, who were so important to what the newspaper did.

You can read the Google GNI Innovation Challenge announcement here.


Peter Fowler
Kīnga VoxPop Limited
email     peter.fowler@voxpop.nz