Publisher puts a cat among the pigeons

Todd Scott took charge at the National Business Review – New Zealand’s biggest weekly business newspaper and most-read news website dedicated to business – five years ago. He bought out its longtime publisher Barry Colman after serving as NBR's chief executive and sales chief. 

Since then he's been mostly behind the scenes, but recently he’s become almost as vocal and visible as he was as a radio host and TV2's Lotto guy alongside Hillary Timmins in the late 1990s.

"I'm actually petrified of reading out loud. I'd pack my pants on Saturday night when we went live on TV2 and I had to read from the autocue," he said. 

Todd Scott has been saying all sorts of things out loud lately though. 

He was in the headlines last month when NBR suddenly canned the weekly column by Sir Robert Jones after pulling a supposedly satirical piece about race relations from its website.

He then tweeted his own reporters:

Earlier this month Todd Scott suddenly declared he no longer wanted political and business insiders “paid to push a point of view.”   

"Update to newsroom: Member Subscribers trust & respect the integrity of @TheNBR Its you they trust to cut through the PR crap, misinformation and out and out lies in search of the truth," he wrote on Twitter this time.

 

That decision followed a controversial column by political commentator and lobbyist Matthew Hooton which was highly critical of former National Party minister Steven Joyce – critical enough for Steven Joyce's lawyers to threaten to sue.

In comments to media – and more tweets – Todd Scott said he would defend any legal action and he backed the writer he’d just cut from NBR. He criticised the two news outlets that revealed the contents of the legal letter.

All this followed another Twitter salvo back in February at advertising agencies who place ads in the NBR for a cut of the money.

"You okay, man?" Newsroom's Tim Murphy asked recently on Twitter, in response to "all this personal-corporate-editorial angst being played out in public." 

"Never better," Todd Scott tweeted back.

What's he up to? 

The common thread in all this bullishness is his insistence that paying subscribers are the critical source of revenue as advertising dwindles and comes with more strings attached.  

The weekly print edition of NBR doesn’t sell as well as it used to but NBR makes much more money online than five years ago. More than 5000 people and businesses currently subscribe to its digital offering.

Only those who pay $35 a month – and businesses who plump for an in-house subscription giving online access to employees – can see NBR’s exclusive content online, which now includes new video and audio every day. 

One of many stories about the controversy stirred up by Sir Robert's reflection on Waitangi Day. Photo: screenshot

Todd Scott says NBR's first target is to double the roster of paying subscribers. 

A bold goal?

"Not at all. Bold is 100,000, which is where I see us going eventually. We have to knock over 10,000 first. We'll comfortably do that within 18 months, which will make us the undisputed champion of business news in New Zealand," he told Mediawatch.

But  NBR surely won't pull in a paying audience as big as that of the New Zealand Herald with a diet of only business news.

"We will get to 10,000 offering business news. To get to 30,000 we will need to broaden," he told Mediawatch. 

"We will do that by getting journalists and contributors people respect behind the paywall. They will work for us because they can do the job for our subscribers without commercial restraints such as sponsorship or advertising," he said. 

Todd Scott says hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested in a new website to launch in June, which will make more of the NBR Radio audio content and NBR View video content.

The latter features familiar names from TVNZ such as Susan Wood and Simon Dallow. The content's not as elaborate or expensive at TV but is it paying off?

"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts," Todd Scott replied. 

Does that mean not many people are listening or watching? 

"The numbers … are not as important as giving our member subscribers timely, relevant and useful business news whether it's text, audio or visual – and we will deliver that," he said. 

Todd Scott recently told the Herald  "pimply faced teenagers" from ad agencies were doing a bad job of selling space in NBR.

Earlier this month he featured in a video on NBR's site demonstrating how he ties his shiny shoes. 

Why is he is taking on advertising agencies that can still provide important income while he strives to hook more subscribers?  

"Some ill-informed people are doing a poor job and we have called them out. We are being misrepresented. The agencies try to beat us down on price and we are strong enough to stand up to them," he said.  

"Like Rod Drury (CEO of Xero) I'm not necessarily the best person for the job going forward but I certainly have a passionate belief in the job that needs to be done, and its a different job expected of us in the past  … funded by member subscribers," he told Mediawatch. 

This article was first published on rnz.co.nz and is republished with permission.

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