John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Is NZ more tabloid than Australia?

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Daughter-mother duo Jaime and Sally Ridge are full-fledged members of the Kiwi celebrity scene. Photo / Doug Sherring
Daughter-mother duo Jaime and Sally Ridge are full-fledged members of the Kiwi celebrity scene. Photo / Doug Sherring

The Aussie import head of news and current affairs at TVNZ says Australian media like celebrity stories as much as anyone - but celeb coverage is more intense in this country.

Ross Dagan, former Ten Network Sydney news boss, says day-to-day coverage is more detailed here.

"It seems the media scrutiny is at a higher level, the detail is greater ... there is more fascination with them."

The proposed TV3 series on media-created "celebrities" Sally and Jaime Ridge is a case in point.

The focus on celebrities and tabloid-style coverage is part of a trend in the media.

Dagan stressed that he is not against a tabloid approach. "There is nothing wrong with appealing to what viewers want, so long as we are sure they are having a broader conversation - with more insight and analysis," he said.

Dagan replaced fellow Aussie Anthony Flannery, who oversaw a shift to tabloid TV on Breakfast with Paul Henry and - sporadically - on Close Up under former executive producer Mike Valintine.

Flannery and Henry are both gone and are now working together on an embattled breakfast show for Channel Ten.

Valintine stepped down from Close Up before Dagan started and will be leaving TVNZ in October.

Dagan's appointment is seen by some TVNZ journalists as bringing a more conservative, systematic approach to news management. But he is a product of Australian commercial television news and says it is important to be popular.

"No one wants to make the least-watched TV programme in the world or to print the least-read newspaper," he said.

* Read tomorrow's Weekend Herald for my exclusive interview with the head of news and current affairs at TVNZ.

STAR TIMES A-CHANGIN'

Fairfax Media is shaking up the Sunday Star-Times from July 1, turning it into regional editions based in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Broad plans for what CEO Allen Williams calls "a new approach to our Sunday Star-Times" are outlined in a confidential communication with staff this week obtained by the Herald.

Fairfax has refused to specify details of the new structure and how much variation there will be between the regional editions. However there would be only one job loss at the Auckland base.

A Fairfax source said the Fairfax Auckland operation would continue to supply a lot of nationally focused editorial material and regional news for the edition covering the upper North Island.

Fairfax papers the Dominion Post in Wellington and the Press in Christchurch would have designated teams to provide copy for central and southern regions.

Costs would be reduced by streamlining the SST's pagination. A Fairfax source suggested this would entail the Culture section being incorporated into the Escape section, and Focus material into Section A of the paper.

According to Williams and SST publisher Mitchell Murphy, several factors have contributed to the paper's challenges.

These included a reduction in advertising from agencies, increased paging and costs from the refresh last February, and the expense of operating a one-day-a-week national paper.

THINKING LOCAL

Advertisers have always been able to buy regional breakouts of the SST, but the reference to a reduction in revenue from advertising agencies suggests a greater focus on local advertising, using established sales teams. Agencies tend to focus on nationwide ad campaigns.

On the face of it, the shift to three editions marks the largest change for the Sunday newspaper market since the launch of the Herald On Sunday in October 2004. It is occurring amid a major shakeup in media, with newspapers under pressure to maintain their share of advertising revenue.

The Herald is considering a move to a "compact" format and it is understood that Fairfax has made some inquiries in that direction, though Fairfax has said in the past that it is not heading that way.

There have also been talks between Fairfax and Herald owner APN over rationalising use of printing facilities, though so far these have come to nothing.

TEXAS LOWBALL

TPG (formerly Texas Pacific Group) is making a second - and this time lowball - offer to buy up MediaWorks' debts at a discounted rate.

TPG already owns 20 per cent of the company's debt, which it purchased for around 70c in the dollar, but it is understood that current approaches are pitched at 30-50 cents in the dollar.

The move will be promoted to bankers as a way of laying off the risk and challenges involved in owning the media company, but the current controlling shareholder, Ironbridge Capital, has said it is committed to MediaWorks and has banker support.

Ironbridge says its own restructuring of the firm - designed to shut out TPG and provide a $50 million cash injection - is still alive.

MediaWorks owns TV3, Four and half the country's commercial radio stations including The Rock, The Edge, Radio Live and MoreFM, among others.

Despite the restructuring being promoted as a done deal, sources say it has never had full sign-off from its senior bankers, and TPG - which launched its push late last year - is still working on a long-term play for the media company.

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD

While MediaWorks' bankers decide whether they would be prepared to take a bath on their debts, Ironbridge says its restructuring plans are continuing.

Spokesman Geoff Senescall confirmed that Ironbridge Capital director Mike Hill had joined managing director Sussan Turner at the LA Screenings in Hollywood, looking at upcoming programmes.

"Yes, of course Mike went to some of the screenings as well as to talk to some of the suppliers. He is a director of the company and Ironbridge remains committed to this asset," said the PR man.

EAGLES FLIES

The newspaper industry is riven with change, including APN News and Media's review of its New Zealand media assets, and study into transforming the Herald into a compact publication. The retirement today of two senior journalists, Jim Eagles and Wayne Harman, provides a personal dimension amid the change.

Herald travel editor Jim Eagles is a rare bird - a newspaperman who owned newspapers.

He was part-owner of the Kaikohe-based Northern News and owner-editor of the Gulf News on Waiheke.

He joined the Herald 50 years ago as cadet and became political editor of the Sunday Herald.

Eagles was also editor of the National Business Review, Bay of Plenty Times, Napier Daily Telegraph and Hawke's Bay Herald Tribune, merging them into Hawke's Bay Today. He was later editor of the Business Herald before becoming travel editor.

GOING BACK HOME

Wayne Harman leaves his role as managing editor of the Herald and is moving back to his hometown, Napier. He started as a photographer on Napier's Daily Telegraph in 1961, moved to the NZ Woman's Weekly as a photographer in 1964, then to the Herald as a photographer, then to the picture desk.

He was appointed picture editor of the Dominion in 1970; back to the Herald picture desk in 1972; then a return to the Daily Telegraph in 1976 for eight years, being appointed Herald picture editor in 1984.

Harman has built a reputation for relentless optimism and being a champion of the editorial department.

- NZ Herald

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