By Pam Graham
Jan 25 (BusinessDesk) -Multi-millionaire philanthropist Sir Owen Glenn was given the opportunity to bid for The New Zealand Herald last year but decided not to proceed.
"I was approached at the beginning of last year and I did look at it as an investment but the numbers didn't stack up," Glenn told BusinessDesk.
The former owner of OTS Logistics, who grew up in New Zealand, has funded a business school at Auckland University and a foundation with a goal of reducing child poverty, and gave $1 million to an appeal for Christchurch earthquake victims. He has also been embroiled in controversies over donations to the Labour and New Zealand First parties.
The Australian Financial Review has speculated that investors taking up a position in Fairfax, publisher of Wellington's Dominion Post and Christchurch's The Press newspapers, have an end game of merging its New Zealand assets with those owned by APN News & Media, publisher of the Herald, its flagship title in the country's largest city, Auckland.
APN announced late last year it was placing publishing businesses in Christchurch, Oamaru and Wellington on the market, and appointed Deutsche Bank last May to conduct a strategic review of its New Zealand assets after receiving approaches from potential buyers for some or all of them.
The future of newspapers is uncertain as readers increasingly news on phones and computers, and in New Zealand it's particularly uncertain because APN and Fairfax are in play.
The ASX-listed companies own all the daily newspapers in New Zealand, bar a handful of independents, and have extensive magazine, digital and radio interests.
The share prices of both companies plunged to historic lows last year and both announced massive writedowns on their mastheads, but both have showed some recovery since late last year.
APN was trading on the ASX today at 30 Australian cents, up 15.38 percent in the last month, despite being 59.73 percent lower than it was a year ago.
Fairfax shares were trading at 54 Australian cents, up 38.16 percent in the last three months, albeit still 30.92 percent lower than their value 12 months ago.
Meanwhile, the Herald's editor-in-chief, Tim Murphy, says he is not letting the largest newspaper in the country play second fiddle to digital platforms.
The New Zealand Herald will not be adopting a "digital-first" approach like that announced this week by the Financial Times, he says in the newspaper's media column today.
FT editor-in-chief Lionel Barber this week talked of a "newspaper second" approach as he reshuffled resources from night work to day work and from print to digital and foreshadowed redundancies on the print side of the paper's operations.
"We need to ensure that we are serving a digital platform first, and a newspaper second. This is a big cultural shift for the FT that is only likely to be achieved with further structural change," Barber said.
He encouraged people wanting to leave the paper to step forward.
The NZ Herald is combining news gathering currently undertaken by separate print and digital teams, and online strategic projects are under digital editor-in-chief Jeremy Rees.
Rees posted on the Kiwi Journalists Association Facebook page that "the story remains fundamental" and talk of "digital-first" mistakenly implied that the platform for delivering the news was more important than the news itself.