John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

John Drinnan: RNZ to spread its wings

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New boss promises to look beyond the capital city, by boosting numbers in Auckland and Christchurch

Paul Thompson is tipped to bring a new touch to National Radio's news and sports coverage. Photo / David White
Paul Thompson is tipped to bring a new touch to National Radio's news and sports coverage. Photo / David White

Radio New Zealand's new boss will boost staff numbers in Auckland and Christchurch.

Paul Thompson wants to reduce the common perception that RNZ takes a Wellington-eye view of New Zealand.

That perception was inevitable, he said, given that 80 per cent of staff were at its headquarters on The Terrace. He wants to see RNZ "spread its wings".

When people left, RNZ aimed to appoint replacements in Auckland and Christchurch.

Thompson replaced Peter Cavanagh, who was chief executive for 10 years. Cavanagh was dour and kept his hands off day-to-day operations, but some believed that was a bad thing, leaving the organisation to atrophy and retreat into separate silos.

RNZ board sources said Thompson was hired to move a logjam of change that had been resisted by RNZ, but there is no sign yet of him advancing a view on controversial issues such as alternative sources of funding.

RNZ sources say Thompson has been on the ground, talking to staff. He spent a morning recently with the Morning Report team and is tipped to bring a new touch to news and sports coverage on RNZ National.

Please explain

Like all media - and despite not having to worry about commercial revenue - RNZ aims to serve its established audience. In RNZ's case that audience is relatively old, and often resistant to change. Some believe that older listeners grow into their media - tuning in to Radio NZ when they hit their 40s. But others, such as Thompson, see that view as too optimistic amid the current media revolution.

Media also have to ensure that their audience is renewed and replenished.

RNZ says this is where the new digital RNZ Youth Radio network comes in. Launching on November 1, the new digital arm is a pet project of chairman Richard Griffin. Thompson acknowledges that by aiming at different audiences, RNZ risks spreading resources too thinly. But after 10 years of inaction, he is aware he is an agent of change.

Among staff there is some reticence about Thompson's having being picked by Griffin, who had a bad rapport with Cavanagh and who is seen as having ties to a National Government that dismisses Radio NZ as irrelevant. While openly supportive of the network, Griffin has his critics at RNZ.

At Cavanagh's farewell - before Thompson's arrival - the board's oversight prompted a spirited rebuke from RNZ political editor and EPMU union stalwart Brent Edwards, leading to a "please explain" letter from the normally sanguine Griffin. It appears the temporary management never sent a reply.

Print future

Fairfax New Zealand staff are braced for more change amid ongoing upheavals across the Tasman.

Fairfax in Australia is closing two glossy business magazines with the loss of 45 jobs.

There was recently a round of layoffs at Fairfax NZ newspapers including the Taranaki Daily News in New Plymouth and the Waikato Times, the latter leaving its printing plant at Te Rapa and moving to the city.

Like APN News and Media - publisher of the Herald - Fairfax NZ is aiming to set up a paywall in a bid to earn more from its online content. Both have had changes in directorship and ownership - Fairfax with the increased stake by billionaire Gina Rinehart and APN with the overhaul of the board and the departure of chief executive Brett Chenoweth.

Tong time

Changes in Australia have been initiated by Fairfax managing director of Australian publishing Allen Williams, who ran the New Zealand operation until May this year. Last week he was replaced by Simon Tong, formerly with Paymark.

It is the latest instalment in a rolling restructuring of the company that owns half the country's newspapers, as well as high profile magazines.

Williams left to take a new role in the Australian publishing arm. Fairfax has also appointed former Murdoch executive Campbell Mitchell to take over as head of marketing and communications, belatedly replacing the role of Sandra King, who took extended leave in October last year. King describes her departure as part of restructuring at Fairfax.

Staff say there have been other changes to senior management that unsettled Fairfax staff. One is the departure of Dave King - head of editorial services - who is taking a role as PR for Christchurch City.

A former editor of the Timaru Herald, his role - setting up combined editorial services - is seen as a growth area at Fairfax, which has shifted a significant portion of its subediting for Australian newspapers to lower cost subbing hubs here.

Radio waves

Rumours persist that the old-for-their-demographic ZM/FM husband and wife breakfast team of Grant Kereama and Pauline Gillespie are moving on.

The couple are tipped to be going to Classic Hits or Gillespie to Newstalk ZB.

The Radio Network content boss Dean Buchanan said they would remain at TRN but refused other comment.

In my opinion, ZM/FM is the most likely home for The Edge's Fletch & Vaughn when they come out of their contract with MediaWorks in April. Some speculated that they might move to Hauraki when Martin Devlin leaves for Radio Sport in January, but you wonder if Matt Heath will be brought forward from drivetime to join Laura McGoldrick at breakfast.

As for Marc Ellis' departure from MediaWorks-owned MoreFM, few would have found it a big shock. Ellis has not sounded as if he has been loving it, and it's not the sort of job you can do half-heartedly.

Ratings today

MediaWorks' RadioLive will be hoping for good news when the latest Auckland radio ratings are released this afternoon. In the last survey six months ago, the talk station lost about 40 per cent of its audience and its share of the Auckland market fell from 3.8 per cent to 2.2 per cent, just above the margin of error.

At the time, MediaWorks said it had rejigged its line-up, with Sean Plunket replacing Michael Laws, and Duncan Garner filling in the drivetime vacancy.

To me the RadioLive slump is due to missed opportunities. It remains committed to Marcus Lush in the morning. While he is an excellent broadcaster, it seems apparent from ratings that he does not speak to the mainstream breakfast audience.

The opportunity to take on NewstalkZB was missed years ago when Mike Hosking replaced Paul Holmes.

And latterly RadioLive has focused on being an alternative station, when it could have made headway against the National Radio's dire line-up of Geoff Robinson and Simon Mercep.

Admittedly, RadioLive has made good changes. For listeners, the gear change from Lush to Plunket is easier than it was from Lush to Laws.

But Plunket has not been heavily promoted on mainstream or social media. Will new owners at MediaWorks be looking for more fundamental changes at RadioLive?

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

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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