John Drinnan: Newsroom convergence the new reality

John Campbell.
John Campbell.

I am turning to reality TV techniques to summarise my impressions of Newshub - the revamped TV3 news bulletin that took over from 3News.

MediaWorks has focused a lot of attention on its reality shows as part of its new direction, and the company's management has been criticised for turning its back on news and current affairs.

For that reason - and in the spirit of Come Dine with Me - I am giving the revamped 6pm news bulletin a score of six.

It's a nice, simple news programme, though they could have dressed things up a little to show some sign that it is made in an integrated newsroom, and is more than just a tidy-up.

We are often told ratings are the most important thing for TV shows.

By that standard, Newshub's first few days show it is a winner big time, attracting some 263,000 viewers on Tuesday.

In my opinion, part of the issue with news and current affairs is the culture at MediaWorks - especially TV3 - and how the news effort will be sustained in a cut-throat year for TV advertising.

MediaWorks insists it has spent a lot of money on the idea of an integrated newsroom, so it's good if the show succeeds and chief executive Mark Weldon gets a financial reward.

That also means less chance that MediaWorks will walk away from the news and current affairs genre that has been its foundation.

According to Nielsen T & M ratings for Tuesday, supplied by TV3, Newshub delivered very good results for its second day. It did especially well in Auckland.

Ratings for the 25-54 age group in Auckland were 8.3 per cent for Newshub Live at 6pm and 8 per cent for One News. Rival TVNZ says it prefers to concentrate on the wider NZ viewer numbers (see table).

It may be that viewers are simply trying out the new show, but the figures so far must be a big relief for the Newshub team.

I have been a 3News viewer for around two years and have been thinking of shifting back to One News.

3 News lately had seemed a bit flat - which seems to have been reflected in its ratings.

I asked Mark Boyd, a former executive producer for SBS TV news operations in Australia, what he thought. Nowadays Boyd is completing a PhD, studying television coverage of New Zealand general elections for the past 20 years.

Boyd said the new Newshub show was cleaner, with new graphics and a new set.

But he said TV3 had not delivered on the promise of Newshub having a multi-media approach. "I expected much more based on how it was sold; it came across as a new version of a TV show and I did not see much sign that radio is even part of it," said Boyd.

All together now

Paul Henry.
Paul Henry.

Converged, integrated multi-media is the big thing in NZ media in 2016.

The move towards an integrated newsroom at TV3 mirrors a similar move by NZME, publisher of the Herald, which combines the editorial efforts of print, radio and online. MediaWorks has tied together its TV and radio arms, and is improving its online arm to deliver what has so far been an under-developed on-demand service.

The radio with pictures form is ideal for MediaWorks and Radio NZ, each of which is offering its own take on the idea of combining audio and visuals.

In my opinion, Radio NZ has made the transition to the radio with pictures format better than Paul Henry's morning show on TV3 and RadioLive.

Admittedly, I'm not a regular listener/viewer of either - I just find the Henry show seems clunky on screen.

Both MediaWorks and Radio NZ have been generous in allocating resources to their multimedia ventures.

Boyd said Radio NZ's evening programme Checkpoint had made the transition well.

"It was just good to watch people go about their business," he told me.

Reverting to type?

John Campbell.
John Campbell.

I do worry that Checkpoint's John Campbell and Henry will revert to type - Campbell as the effusive campaigning journalist and Henry as the smart aleck putdown artist. The big question will always be how much Campbell will affect the editorial stance of Checkpoint and how that will reflect on Radio NZ.

The state broadcaster has been labelled - sometimes fairly, sometimes not - as having a liberal focus, and National politicians have been known to call it "Radio Labour".

Campbell is not party political. But in my opinion, there are dangers in having someone like Campbell - whose previous role was as a campaigning journalist - presenting a show that has endeavoured to maintain a reputation for objectivity.

There must surely be a danger that an untethered Campbell, with his reputation as a hero of the left, will revive Radio NZ's old reputation.

Radio NZ chief executive Paul Thompson acknowledges that Campbell will always bring his own personality and skills to the job..

One person familiar with Radio NZ thinking said it was inevitable that in hiring Campbell, his views and opinions would come through, but that Campbell had been careful in adjusting from what was a free and easy approach on his old TV show, Campbell Live.

- NZ Herald

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John Drinnan has been 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.

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