John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: Slater to ease the sleaze

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Will Truth move towards more politics and less sleaze?
Cameron Slater aka the blogger Whaleoil. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Cameron Slater aka the blogger Whaleoil. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Truth's owners and its new editor Cameron Slater say they plan to reduce its focus on advertising brothels, strip clubs and prostitutes.

Slater - aka Whale Oil - says he is a Christian but has no problem with red light advertising.

But he took over as editor this week cognisant that owners Matthew Horton and David Crow wanted to change.

While the paper had moved further down that road over the past 12 months the readership had fallen, he said.

Truth plans to return to the ABC audit to better define its audience for advertisers.

Slater's right wing Whale Oil Beef Hooked is New Zealand's most popular and arguably the most news focused blog.

Slater says Truth wanted the blog to stay and he is happy it will continue unabated.

But Whale Oil's political stories may be an odd fit with Truth. At least at the start Slater's 'deep throat' sources inside National may come in handy.

Insiders say in the past the Government has fed negative stories to Whale Oil to put them into the public domain.

Slater wants Truth to return to being a strong tabloid as it was in the 50s and 60s.

Truth has failed in the past to relaunch as a bona fide newspaper, before drifting back to red light fare.

Sleazy has been a secure financial foundation for Truth in a slump for print advertising. But Slater says there have already been signs of a pick-up in other categories of advertising.

GREAT AND GOOD TURN OUT FOR HOLMES

The great and good turned out last Thursday to applaud Paul Holmes for his charity work, in an invitation-only function organised by National Party insider and public relations woman Michelle Boag at the SkyCity Grand Hotel.

The function with a guest list of about 100 also marked Holmes' return to television hosting Q&A after a illness.

Boag, a former National Party president, and former Labour Party president Mike Williams - both friends and sometimes pundits on Q&A - were ably assisted by former broadcaster John Hawkesby, who was MC.

The cost of the event is estimated to have run to five figures and was paid for by casino company SkyCity Entertainment.

Boag said there was "hardly a dry eye in the house" as Holmes was congratulated by charities and friends for his stellar work.

He is a trustee of the SkyCity Auckland Community Trust.

Also at the function were SkyCity directors, including SkyCity Auckland Community Trust member Peter Cullinane. Also on hand were SkyCity board member Brent Harman, a friend of Holmes and a director of TV3 owner MediaWorks, and Nigel Morrison, the chief executive of SkyCity Entertainment.

Boag says Holmes was lured to his surprise party under the ruse of dinner with Morrison, Harman and their wives.

Prime Minister John Key delivered a video accolade for Holmes and it seems that, at the request of Mike Williams, former Prime Minister Helen Clark tried to do the same, but did not make it on time.

SkyCity said it was comfortable paying the thousands of dollars for Holmes's surprise party, saying its contribution was in response to Holmes' role in its charitable trust.

TVNZ head of news and current affairs Ross Dagan said: "We're comfortable that our editorial processes would pick up and deal with any potential conflict of interest if and when it ever arose and we don't think anyone would begrudge Paul's long contribution being recognised."

In an April 21 Herald column Holmes declared his membership of the trust as "a small interest" in a piece supporting the Government negotiations to allow SkyCity to have more pokies in return for funding a new Auckland convention centre.

OH HENRY!
Prospects for Paul Henry returning to the new 7pm show on TV One may be more apparent after a meeting today at the Australian Ten Network. A source said the meeting should decide the future of Henry's bottom-scraping rating Ten Breakfast show which escaped a recent round of cuts.

TVNZ has been considering a reunion of Henry and his Breakfast former co-host Pippa Wetzell. If he is relieved of commitments to Ten, he might be free to consider any offer for the new lightweight current affairs show replacing Close Up.

GETTING REAL
Prime TV will need to improve its oversight of current affairs with local stories in 60 Minutes next year.

Prime owner Sky TV picked up rights to 60 Minutes as part of a deal with the CBS network that has cut ties with TV3.

Sky has put limited resources into news and current affairs and TVNZ appears to be retreating from the format. So local segments would be a positive development.

But unlike TVNZ or TV3, there is little journalistic oversight at Sky outside the small Prime TV newsroom.

There has been a link between current affairs initiatives in political coverage and Sky's lobbyist Tony O'Brien.

In 2011 O'Brien was the network executive in charge of SkyTV's election coverage.

Earlier this year, O'Brien played a key role in Prime picking up the political interview programme Back Benches that was canned by TVNZ.

The power of big current affairs brands like 60 Minutes has diminished but CBS still protects the integrity of the programme which it sells in other markets and Sky will be hiring an executive producer to run the show.

It could be argued that journalistic oversight for 60 Minutes should be extended to cover Back Benches.

STATE MEDIA
NZ Post subsidiary The Localist has abandoned its print directories because of challenges in the advertising market.

But chief executive Blair Glubb insists the early exit does not signal wider problems for the business model used for the SOE's entree into new media.

"It's a shame to close print down," says Glubb.

"We made a margin [on print directories] which contributed to the cost of the build for the company," he says.

"But it was always envisaged we would focus solely on digital."

Next week, The Localist will launch a revamped website focused on consumer recommendations for goods and services and on smartphone mobile operations.

Glubb says online revenue is above expectations and after 18 months of trading it is on target to be self-sustaining within 30 months.

New Zealand Post recently revealed it made a provision for a $13.3 million impairment on a $26.6 million loan to The Localist and gave its subsidiary a holiday from repaying interest.

Around Christmas last year The Localist laid off about one-third of its 100 staff due to what it said was a shift from a start-up to an operational phase.

Glubb is confident the new focus will stand the Localist in good stead. But with growing free content and comment on social media it is not wholly clear how it will monetise its role.

GRAB-ME
NZ Post refuses to say how much money it has pumped into The Localist over the past two years, arguing commercial sensitivity.

New-media commentator Peter Griffin wishes Glubb well.

But he is sceptical about state corporations spending up on new-media initiatives, saying some might be better as independent start-ups whose lack of money forced them to be more innovative.

"I just don't think [The Localist] connects with the average online consumer in the same way as Trade Me or GrabOne." Both have an established audience they can divert to a lucrative e-commerce site, Griffin says.

- 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.

Read more by John Drinnan

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