WFNGW: This New Zealand town will not pay you to move there
What are the effects of the hyper-fast speed of online news? In ‘When Fast News Goes Wrong’, we report on premature conclusions, social media misfires and hoaxes taken at face value.
The shock of the Brexit vote provided fertile ground in late June for a quirky news story on a New Zealand town with a big plan to lure new residents. The Guardian reported that Kaitangata had “too many jobs, too many houses and not enough people to fill them”, and would therefore offer attractively priced packages to Kiwis who might be tempted to move to the village of 800 people. For a bargain NZ$230,000 (£122,000) new arrivals could get a newly-built three-bedroom house and some land.
“We have got youth unemployment down to two. Not two percent – just two unemployed young people,” Bryan Cadogan, mayor of the Clutha district, told The Guardian.
But things got out of hand when media outlets including a local affiliate of Fox News and SFGate, a sister site of the San Francisco Chronicle, misinterpreted the reports from New Zealand and told their readers that the town would pay new residents NZ$230,000 to move there.
The corrections came too late for Mayor Cadogan, who now faced the kind of administrative backlog that would need weeks to work through even with the help of the last two people in the village with time on their hands – the Guardian reported that he had 5,000 unanswered messages on his phone.
“We’ve been getting smashed,” he told the newspaper. Locals said that most enquiries about relocating came from Syria, Poland, the US and the UK (and yes, Brexit was often mentioned as a reason).
Overwhelmed, Clutha District has updated its homepage, which now carries the message: “We are not paying people to move here.”
“Unfortunately, there have been some incorrect stories in overseas media that we are paying people to move here,” the full statement on the district’s website reads. “This is not true.”
It continues: “We certainly were not expecting this story to go global and never intended to market it overseas, so while the international attention has been very exciting and really positive for us, we’re now overwhelmed with enquiries from around the world!”
The rolling hills of Kaitangata might still appeal to some as a rustic haven away from the UK’s political mess. For those still interested in the house and land packages, Clutha District council recommends checking eligibility to work in New Zealand, then dropping them a line. Here’s all you need to know.
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