Mediaworks has rejigged its radio, TV and online news together under the new name of Newshub. Why? And what might this mean for the news? Mediawatch also talks to a long-serving TV3 reporter leaving the company, who fears for the future of reporting in the regions.
Many people in the media were startled when The New Zealand Herald reported recently that TV3’s owner Mediaworks was doing away with 3 News. Surely, said some, they wouldn’t kill off the 6pm news hour that’s been a fixture ever since the station launched?
They just might, said others.
3 News isn’t getting nearly as many viewers as TVNZ‘s One News these days and this past year Mediaworks has axed the prime time current affairs shows Campbell Live, investigative weekly programme 3D and its morning news show Firstline. It has replaced them with shows that haven't pulled in many more viewers, or pulled up many trees with their reporting.
But the Herald over-egged the breaking story about its commercial rival. Mediaworks had not announced the end of the 6pm news on TV3 - just a new name for all its radio and TV news services, now hosted together in an integrated digital newsroom in Auckland.
In fact the imminent re-badging of the company’s news wasn’t even fresh information. Mediaworks first announced this move on 3 News in October last year, against a backdrop of its swish-looking new newsroom.
Smartening up? Or dumbing down?
At that time Mediaworks chief executive Mark Weldon declined to talk to Mediawatch about the move - and turned down an invitation again this week. But back in October he told media industry website Stoppress.co.nz about what he called the company's new “power news brand”.
"The news for us is a lot bigger than the 6pm bulletin. We’re the biggest radio broadcaster of news in the country across the most channels and we’ve got very deep digital assets that have news - and news-like content - on there as well. What’s about to occur is us going from being TV-led to being digital-led."
Millions of dollars had been invested in the revamped newsroom, he said, and this news and "news-like content" would be colour-coded:
You’ve got different colours representing different areas of specialisation - weather or health, or technology or money, or politics. We’ll develop a number of other sub-brands across it. It will play across TV, it will be the brand that drives all of our radio bulletins on all our radio stations 24 hours a day, it will be the brand on our website and on a new news app. It represents a vision of moving to a 24/7 news service model.
This means reporters' news and pictures will be published online as soon as possible, rather than waiting for a bulletin.
Speed and depth
In a statement last week, Mediaworks head of news Mark Jennings insisted Newshub journalists will still report the 'how' and 'why' of news events - as well as the basic 'who', 'what' and 'when'.
"Specialist teams will work on breaking stories in the areas of most interest to New Zealanders. We won’t just be telling you what is happening, but why it is happening," Mr Jennings said.
Mr Weldon also told Stop Press last year that research showed MediaWorks succeeded when it was "entertaining, humorous, approachable and real”. That applied to news and current affairs too, he said, but some of the company's serious current affairs had already been factored out of Newshub.
Paula Penfold, a reporter on the axed 3D, told RNZ National last weekend: "The planning for Newshub had been going on for months, but we were never involved in that. The writing was on the wall."
Is a new brand really necessary?
Branding expert Brian Richards told the National Business Review Mediaworks was taking a big risk.
MediaWorks is a house of brands, not a branded house. Media personalities and programmes are brands in their own right, and Mr Weldon has gone in with a flamethrower... which means the intellectual assets of what he intended to rebrand may well be bleeding and falling out the back door.
RNZ's Kathryn Ryan pointed out on Nine to Noon that TVNZ’s One News was pulling in viewers at 6pm without any radical modernising.
"I don't see it looking very different to its bulletins ten or twenty years ago," she said.
But former TV3 presenter Rachel Smalley approved of the move saying 3 News had "died" because it was "tired and not relevant any more".
Duncan Garner – a prominent host on radio and TV for Mediaworks - said it was a case of "evolve or die"
“More than 65 percent of people own smart phones and consume their news across the day in a digital way”, he said. “So we have to give you the news like a rolling maul, minute by minute”.
The new integrated Newshub newsroom was “bloody impressive,” he added.
"People want to be here. People want to work from here. I see the passion and excitement every day. We're training our reporters like never before, we have new technology, new staff, new co-operation across TV, radio and online. And it was totally necessary.
Reservations from the south
Among those who won’t be part of Mediaworks' new move is TV3’s senior reporter in Christchurch Jeff Hampton and long-serving Christchurch bureau chief Phil Corkery.
Mr Hampton told Mediawatch journalists reporting across radio, TV and digital wasn't new, and the Newshub move devalued the 6pm news bulletin.
"Now the news will come out during the day," he said. "We've been able to do that for some time, but stories were held back and released at six o'clock. Now you will know just about everything that's in the evening news already. Overseas they're still running strong evening news shows".
A bigger concern is the shrinking numbers of journalists in the South Island. There are fewer Mediaworks reporters working in Christchurch now than there were five years ago before the February 2011 earthquake, he said.
"People in the South Island see the journalists as their advocates, especially after the earthquakes, standing up to authorities," said Mr Hampton.
When TVNZ announced plans to cut two roles in Dunedin last year, southern mayors protested and online campaigns were mounted. In the end, TVNZ retained Dunedin reporter Megan Martin, though at the time RNZ News noted:
"The once-strong Dunedin press pack is already a shadow of its former self, down to two radio reporters and representatives of just three TV outlets and two print outlets".
NZME sold its South Island newspapers two years ago and now relies on the Otago Daily Times for news from the region. Mr Hampton said South Island journalism has been a victim of media companies funding their digital transitions.
"More resource should go into the South Island" he said. "There are really good stories here, and they should be covered by journalists who live here".
"I hope Newshub will be successful and financially viable, and eventually the proceeds can go back into building up the newsrooms again," he told Mediawatch.