John Drinnan 's Opinion

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Media: Tabloid hack vs shock-jock

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Marshall scoop on Jones a lesson in what happens when media people become caught up in their own hubris

TVNZ will have no qualms about bringing Paul Henry back from his failing gig at the Australian Ten Network. Photo / APN
TVNZ will have no qualms about bringing Paul Henry back from his failing gig at the Australian Ten Network. Photo / APN

Kiwi newsman Jonathan Marshall made the "Gotcha" tape of Alan Jones that has left one of Australia's most influential media men looking shamefaced and - at least momentarily - contrite.

It's a lesson in what happens when media people become caught up in their own hubris and need to cause outrage.

In my opinion it's part of the increasingly competitive tabloid marketplace where shark eats shark.

You may have read this week that Marshall recorded Jones at a speaking engagement making a cruel personal attack on Aussie Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

He said Gillard's recently deceased father had died of shame because of the Labor Prime Minister's repeated lies.

Marshall - a controversial figure in Kiwi tabloid journalism who now works on Sydney's Daily Telegraph - can enjoy the kudos from this simple straightforward scoop.

Some other journalists agreed to Chatham House rules and did not report the Jones story, but Marshall saw it for what it was worth.

Fairfax's Sydney Morning Herald reported Marshall's scoop but also focused on Marshall's colourful history in New Zealand. They left out the fact that his most recent controversies have been with Fairfax's own Sunday Star-Times, where he was star reporter.

Marshall provided a splash in which Amanda Hotchin alleged he quoted words she never uttered.

That led to an attack from media commentator Brian Edwards who took up the cudgels against him.

Fairfax invited her to take legal action but she never did.

It is part of a legacy of events where Marshall has been the enfant terrible of New Zealand tabloid journalism.

Marshall left the paper after an item covering the death of David Gaynor, the son of respected business commentator Brian Gaynor, gave an incorrect version of events before the teenager's death.

The two cases are very different. But both go to the heart of how media perform in times of grief.

HIT 'EM OR HUG 'EM

Like radio station 2GB's Alan Jones, Kiwi tabloid journalist Paul Henry makes a living from saying outrageous things - such as references to a lady with a moustache, a person with the name Dikshit, and whether the Governor General was a real New Zealander - all of those finely crafted dogwhistle moments that take pleasure in causing offence.

Despite dropping him in 2010, TVNZ will have no qualms about bringing Henry back from his failing gig at the Australian Ten Network.

And I doubt Ten will be holding on to the unpopular host very tight.

Henry, whose fans are backing him to replace Mark Sainsbury in the Close Up time slot, is capable of providing great interviews and strong current affairs, but in the new world order TVNZ would hire him with the main aim to be outrageous.

If they got back together Pippa Wetzell would reprise her role as the chiding beauty feigning outrage to Paul's beast.

Former TVNZ programmer the late Mike Lattin once told me a truism about picking TV presenters who rate: The audience has to want to either hit them or hug them (or words to that effect), he said.

Henry would alienate part of the audience but they would watch to be infuriated.

Loyal fans will love him for being himself.

Hiring Henry would be less of a commercial risk than starting afresh with someone who does not elicit a reaction.

It's doubtful good current affairs and informing the public will play a part in the decision.

LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT

Left media types are finding new roles in big business - but are they just Jedi knights flirting with what they might otherwise regard as the dark side.

In media terms the most significant move has been former Labour and Alliance strategist John Pagani, who was a left wing commentator on Radio New Zealand National. He started a month ago with the listed energy company New Zealand Oil & Gas.

Gordon Jon Thompson, a former chief of staff for Labour leader Phil Goff who was running polling company UMR, recently joined SkyCity Entertainment and is trying to dig the company out of a public relations nightmare related to its conference centre for pokies deal.

Most recently, Conor Roberts, the election campaign boss, chief political adviser and friend of Auckland mayor Len Brown, is preparing to leave for a communications and lobbyist role at Todd Capital.

He acknowledged his employer will enjoy good access to the Mayor.

All three of these men are regarded as "true believers" who believe in the left cause. All three will enjoy a bigger pay packet, but it makes you wonder whether there is something else at play.

Pagani, who is arguably New Zealand's best political strategist, believes there is no trend.

National-friendly blogger David Farrar believes Roberts is a rare example of a Labour candidate getting business experience before making a bid for Parliament, which he believes will be in 2014 or 2017.

LITTLE AND LARGE

The Radio Network general manager of talk radio Dallas Gurney said NewstalkZB would be announcing the replacement for Sean Plunket soon.

Plunket has resigned from the Wellington area breakout of the national talkback 8.30 to noon show.

Some believe Mark Sainsbury - a born and bred Wellingtonian - would be good as a replacement, but Sainso is not a radio man and you wonder how he would handle the transition.

Plunket is playing down reports he will be moving to RadioLive at the end of the year and RadioLive owners MediaWorks have declined to comment.

But if he is picked up I'd expect MediaWorks would probably replace Michael Laws on its nine to noon show.

The down side was that Plunket would insist on presenting a show from Wellington, distant from the buzz of the newsroom, and be out of the loop.

TIME TO GO?

A radio contact said that Plunket should not be ruled out of replacing RadioLive's Marcus Lush - the talented night-time radio host who has never been a ratings success at the breakfast programme.

He has remained in part because of the extraordinarily strong support of MediaWorks managing director Sussan Turner.

The major deterrent of the breakfast slot for Plunket would be the early start times, which he hated as co-presenter of Radio New Zealand's Morning Report.

A radio industry source said that TRN hired Plunket for the Wellington job as a primer for taking over Leighton Smith's nationally networked morning show on NewstalkZB.

It appears that was no longer happening, in part because Newstalk was insisting he move to Auckland from Wellington.

The Wellington breakout was run because the timeslot had a strong following under past presenter Justin Du Fresne.

MILES OF SMILES

Broadcaster-cum-adman Wallace Chapman has cited anarcho-syndicalist activist Noam Chomsky to back his fronting of a series of chocolate advertorials screening in or around news programmes on TVNZ.

This column looked askance at Chapman's plug for Cadbury - the first of several advertisers who have signed up to the advertorial series "The Extra Mile". In yesterday's Herald 12 Questions column Chapman says there is no conflict between this advertorial gig and his role as presenter in the taxpayer-funded political show Backbenches, relaunching next year on Prime.

He compared the situation with anti-war campaigner Chomsky who worked for an academic institution that took funding from a defence agency.

With respect to Chapman - who seems to be a very nice chap - that is bull. TVNZ chose Chapman to do these phoney interviews because he is seen as a journalist. He has enjoyed publicity from his Backbenches performance. Cadbury and other advertisers are paying TV for the pretence that he is a journalist.

Taxpayers created Chapman's brand now TVNZ is using it to sell confectionery. Chapman has to make up his mind if his opinions are his own or if his views are for sale.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. A business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

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