Kim Hill: ‘We have to find another model ... that wasn’t a debate’; Radio stars, including Tova O’Brien, settle with MediaWorks; Rupert Murdoch steps down; IAB Awards finalists; Barry Soper’s One Good Text.
Broadcaster Kim Hill is just a few weeks from switching off her microphone, but her announcement has done nothing to dull her passion to reignite political debate and the contest of ideas in New Zealand.
In an interview with Media Insider, Hill, 68, who leaves RNZ in November, has given more insight into her decision to quit, thoughts on the state of the media industry, and reflections on some of her most memorable interviews.
And Hill – one of our greatest broadcasters – says, “if there’s nothing else I’m grateful for, it’s never having to interview Winston Peters ever again in my entire life!”.
Hill, RNZ’s Saturday Morning host, watched this week’s leaders’ debate on television.
“I don’t know what it was like to be there but watching it at home, it was so old school. It was quite moving – the kind of nostalgic view that it was a watercooler event that people could talk about.
“Except that there was nothing to talk about. It was content-free, because they were so practised, and they were kind of hollowed out into having to not offend anybody, I suppose.”
She was not criticising the show producers or host Jessica Mutch McKay.
“This is no criticism of anybody. It’s just the way it is. We’ve moved past that now. We have to find another model.
“I mean that wasn’t a debate right, you know that wasn’t a debate.”
She recalls the film The Journey, the fictional account of a true story in which Northern Ireland political enemies Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness are forced to travel together in a van.
“Maybe we put both leaders in a room and make them stay there for 24 hours where they get food and water and let’s just see what happens.”
It raises another point, about politicians and others being coached to the nth degree for interviews more generally.
“I was watching Moana Maniapoto on Winston Peters. She’s wonderful. And she did her best. She treated Mr Peters like a weird uncle and kept nudging him and saying, ‘Oh, you’re doing that thing again, stop doing that thing’.
“And he played up to it to a certain extent but there was still no getting through him. There was still no breaking that ‘I did it and you don’t realise how great I am and you’re all stupid and you haven’t done your homework’.”
I ask her how she would handle Peters now.
“Some people you just can’t do. I mean if there’s nothing else I’m grateful for, it’s never having to interview Winston Peters ever again in my entire life.”
Among her thousands of enthralling interviews – and she has spoken to world leaders from Nelson Mandela to the Dalai Lama, leading politicians, celebrities, businesspeople, and acclaimed authors – three tetchy ones stand out for me: John Pilger, Tony Parsons and Jeffrey Archer.
She interviewed Pilger, an award-winning journalist, about his then-new book on Iraq for her television show Face to Face in 2003.
An angry Pilger accused Hill of not asking informed questions. “Just read. Read. It takes time,” he told her.
Hill told the Herald at the time that she had spoken to Pilger before the interview. “He said, ‘You ask me anything you like’, but he said, ‘Don’t play media games with me’.
“I don’t know [what he meant by that] but clearly he is sensitive to what he would regard as some kind of right-wing domination of the media.”
She tells Media Insider: “There’s a lot of myths surrounding that Pilger interview. I never threw a book at him or a pen. I just slid the book over the table towards him. And he was on the video so it wouldn’t have been any good to throw the book at him.”
She says she has not watched the interview.
“I could never watch it. I couldn’t watch it the first time. I can’t watch or listen to myself ever and certainly not that one.”
Meanwhile, Parsons came at her, saying “you’ve got your head up your arse”, while British author and politician Archer told Hill she was rude and he had “every right to tell her so”.
“[Parsons] gave an interview to The Listener because [they] went in and said ‘What was that about?’ And he said something like, ‘Oh, I would never have said that if I realised she was so old’.”
She says she only reflects on interviews in her mind, rather than listening back.
“Because what’s the point? You know? There’s a million ways [to go] … they are like Rubik’s Cubes most of the time. You could go this way; you could go that way. You could follow that up. Your time’s running out. You will squish this bit in. There’s a million ways to do them. And mostly it’s live radio and the way they’re done is the way they’re done – that’s my view. I mean, I screw them up terribly sometimes. But that’s what it is.”
Hill announced her departure from RNZ only last Friday and has already been approached with offers of work. She may do some special projects for RNZ but nothing is yet set in stone.
Her daughter is due to have her second child in November. Hill adores being a grandmother.
“It’s hard for young families now, and I can be a bit useful. November might be a bit busy because I’m not going till the end of November and if baby comes early, I might have a few weeks of sleeplessness, but so it goes.
“I’m just going to take a few months off, greet the baby, enjoy the summer, and see what happens.”
Following her announcement, she described her emotions as “scared and a bit sad and a bit excited”.
Over the past week “nothing much has changed”, she tells Media Insider. “I think I feel like the hard bit is over now. You know committing to it, actually making the call and saying this is happening. And now just the question of pretending it’s not happening and doing your best to the end of the line.”
As well as being one of our most acclaimed broadcasters, her 38-year tenure at RNZ makes her one of our most loyal.
But she hates that word.
“Loyal makes me sound like a faithful, martyrish dog. It’s not a question of loyalty. It’s a question of loving the job and taking pride in Radio New Zealand. So, loyal? Nahhh. I mean, there have been other directions available and I chose not to go in them because I think Radio New Zealand’s the best place to work.”
She says RNZ, NZME, Stuff and other newsrooms are all producing “great investigative journalism”.
“But people don’t seem to value the quality of it at the moment. They’d rather go on Twitter and shout at each other.”
She is worried about the financial viability of the industry, and individual players. “As [the closure of] Today showed, people aren’t it for the long haul. They whip their money in and they whip their money out. It’s instant returns. And maybe that’s the way things work now, but it doesn’t augur well for quality.”
Away from the microphone she also has her garden to focus on and in recent weeks she has taken up the court sport of pickleball, a fad sweeping the world. Players use paddles to hit a hollow plastic ball back and forth across a low net.
“My skills are such that just playing pickleball I am triggered back into my childhood of nobody picking me for the team,” says Hill. “And my mother looking at me sadly and wondering where her sporty genes went to.
“I realise that my time will be up soon and absolutely nobody will want to play with me at this point. Everybody sort of plays together and it’s quite fun. Nobody takes it too seriously except a few people.
“It’s not competitive … much. Well, I’m not competitive. Let’s face it, some people are.”
Interviewing broadcasting royalty can be quite daunting – at one point as I gibbered away, she asked, “Sorry, what’s your question” – and my final question to her was quite twee.
“If Kim Hill was interviewing Kim Hill, what would she have asked?”
A long pause, before: “I have no idea! That’s an impossible question because I know everything about Kim Hill and she’s bloody boring!”
MediaWorks settles with team of 17
MediaWorks has settled with a large group of staff who took on the media firm following the sudden closure of Today FM in late March.
Media Insider understands a group of 17 former Today staff, represented by lawyer Charlotte Parkhill, have agreed to financial settlements from MediaWorks, based on their initial claims of hurt and humiliation and lost wages.
The staff have been subject to strict conditions of confidentiality but are understood to be hugely relieved that they have settled, each on individual terms.
Among those in the group are high-profile broadcasters such as Tova O’Brien.
“The matter has been resolved and we have no further comment to make,” said a MediaWorks spokeswoman.
Parkhill and O’Brien said they could not comment.
Succession plays out – Rupert Murdoch steps down
Big breaking news early today out of the United States, with Rupert Murdoch announcing he is stepping down as chairman of News Corp and Fox, drawing to a close a seven-decade career that has seen him rise to become the most influential and controversial media baron in the world.
The 92-year-old Australia-born businessman’s pending retirement also means one of the global media industry’s biggest questions – one which was said to be the model for the hit TV show Succession – has been answered.
Murdoch’s son, Lachlan Murdoch, will become sole chair of News Corp in November and continue as executive chair and CEO of Fox Corporation.
“For my entire professional life, I have been engaged daily with news and ideas, and that will not change,” Murdoch told News Corp and Fox staff in a memo.
“But the time is right for me to take on different roles, knowing that we have truly talented teams and a passionate, principled leader in Lachlan who will become sole chairman of both companies.
“Neither excessive pride nor false humility are admirable qualities. But I am truly proud of what we have achieved collectively through the decades, and I owe much to my colleagues, whose contributions to our success have sometimes been unseen outside the company but are deeply appreciated by me.
“Whether the truck drivers distributing our papers, the cleaners who toil when we have left the office, the assistants who support us or the skilled operators behind the cameras or the computer code, we would be less successful and have less positive impact on society without your day-after-day dedication.’
Murdoch said he, like the companies, was in “robust health”.
“Our opportunities far exceed our commercial challenges,” he said. “We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years – I certainly am, and plan to be here to participate in them.
Murdoch won’t be letting go entirely, becoming chairman emeritus when he steps down in November.
“In my new role, I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas,” Murdoch said. “Our companies are communities, and I will be an active member of our community. I will be watching our broadcasts with a critical eye, reading our newspapers and websites and books with much interest.”
Murdoch and his four eldest children James, Lachlan, Elisabeth and Prudence, were widely believed to be the model of the HBO show Succession.
Murdoch has had a strong New Zealand influence over the years, although he no longer has shares in any Kiwi media businesses.
His purchase of the Dominion newspaper in the mid-1960s – sparked when he learned of its sale while on holiday in New Zealand – marked his company’s first foray outside of Australia.
He would build up a portfolio of newspapers in New Zealand – as well as the Dominion, he took ownership of The Press, The Evening Post and a range of regional titles under the Independent Newspapers (INL) brand.
For a time, he also had a significant investment in Sky TV.
Sir Colin Maiden was chair of Independent Newspapers – which eventually became Fairfax and then Stuff – when it was part-owned by Murdoch.
Maiden met Murdoch and son Lachlan on several occasions. In 1995, he and then INL managing director Mike Robson celebrated Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup victory in San Diego, alongside Murdoch on his superyacht Red Dragon.
“Trays of champagne were brought out ... it was as though Mike Robson and I had won the America’s Cup!” Maiden told me recently.
“I have a lot of memories of Rupert. I must admit with his views and Fox News and all the rest, I have become rather disillusioned in recent years. But we never saw that side of it. I don’t like what I see of that side ... Fox News.”
Former All Black David Kirk also came to know Murdoch and son Lachlan reasonably well when he was CEO of rival Australasian media firm Fairfax.
Kirk played tennis for a time with Lachlan, and the companies met occasionally – without breaching anti-competitive laws – to discuss how they could collaborate and share costs, and infrastructure such as printing plants.
Kirk met Murdoch on several occasions. “He knows he’s the most important person in the room put it that way, but he’s very polite,” Kirk told me recently.
Stay tuned to nzherald.co.nz for more reaction and developments on Murdoch’s departure.
Senz’s $6 million loss
New Zealand sports radio network Senz has posted an almost $6 million loss, accounting for more than half of its parent company’s $10 million deficit, in its most recent financial year.
But the company maintains it is committed to the New Zealand market despite the sea of red ink, and increasing pressure in Australia. While it said its New Zealand arm continued to be in a loss-making position, the $A5.5m ($NZ5.9m) loss was characterised as an impairment expense.
Reports out of Australia suggest Commonwealth Bank could potentially demand an “immediate settlement” of a $28.7 million credit facility provided to parent company SEN.
“In the Sports Entertainment Group’s preliminary final report, it’s highlighted that the company has slightly more than $1 million left in its line of credit,” the Ministry of Sport website reported. “To manage its obligations, the company sought ‘covenant relief’ from the Commonwealth Bank in the June quarter. The bank, in response, did not push for immediate settlement of the liability.”
Senz launched in New Zealand in mid-2021 with some of the biggest names in sport and broadcasting, including Brendon McCullum, Israel Dagg, Ian Smith, Kirstie Stanway and Stephen Donald. It promised to deliver 24/7 sport content as fans had never heard or seen before across almost 30 radio stations and through its digital channels.
“Senz continues to show strong ongoing growth across our radio and digital platforms,” a Senz spokesman told Media Insider yesterday.
“With great momentum from the Rugby World Cup in our capacity as an official radio broadcaster ... [a] radio partnership with the New Zealand Warriors, an exclusive radio commentary partnership with New Zealand Cricket and several other exciting initiatives, we look forward to continued improvement and growth moving ahead.”
The spokesman did not answer specific questions around any cost-management or cost-cutting moves the company might be making. Almost every mainstream New Zealand media company is in careful cost-management mode in difficult economic times.
One Good Text
This week, we correspond with our very good friend and colleague, Barry Soper, ahead of his open-heart surgery on Friday. We wish Barry, Heather and Iggy all of our best wishes today.
Facebook traffic – the sugar rush has gone
Four years ago, Facebook wooed some of New Zealand’s top publishers, inviting us on trips across the Pacific and to Asia.
I was lucky enough to be on two trips in 2019, one to Sydney for an Accelerator workshop – a programme to help us with our digital subscription model – and another to Singapore to hear all about Facebook News Tab, their fancy new product to help promote and boost quality journalism on the platform.
We were hosted at lovely restaurants, stayed at top hotels and heard from some of the brightest tech brains on the planet.
Four years on and not only has the love affair eased, we may be edging to separation.
As governments across the world slowly but surely introduce new legislation to force digital giants to recognise – ie, pay for – the value of high-quality journalism on their platforms, Facebook/Meta is becoming increasingly agitated.
After Canada introduced legislation to force the giants to the table, Meta stopped news publishers and other users from being able to publish their journalism and other content on Facebook. That was seen by Meta to be a much-preferred option over having to pay for it.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand and Australia, news websites are starting to see a dramatic decline in website traffic coming from Facebook.
The social media site has tweaked its algorithm heavily in the past 12 months to deprioritise news articles and high-quality journalism from appearing prominently on most Facebook users’ news feeds. Instead, you’re more likely to be served a video about cats or dogs, depending on your preference.
This in turn has seen a significant drop in audience for news publishers.
In Australia, web traffic coming from Facebook posts has collapsed by up to 50 per cent since the start of the year as “Meta escalates its pivot away from news” and “despite it having months left in its multimillion-dollar deals with media outlets”, the Australian Financial Review reported.
Media Insider analysis of the web traffic of key New Zealand news websites shows a steady decline in audiences coming from Facebook.
According to SimilarWeb, in just three months, social referrals to nzherald.co.nz have fallen to 14 per cent of all traffic (where once it might have been as high as 20 per cent). Similarly, social referrals have declined for RNZ (now just 11 per cent of web traffic); 1 News (18 per cent), Newsroom (18 per cent), The Spinoff (18 per cent) and Newshub (22 per cent). Stuff has not posted content to Facebook since March.
TVNZ said it was concerned about the drop in traffic, which had been most noticeable in the past two months, “with low double-digit decline”.
“We never want to see traffic to our news site drop due to a change in Meta’s algorithm and priorities,” said a spokeswoman. “New Zealanders should be able to access news in the way they want to consume it.”
TVNZ said Meta was deprioritising access to news locally and globally. “Access to trusted information on the platforms people want to consume it on is important. We’ve seen the impact these changes are having overseas, with Canadians unable to access timely information from news media on their devastating wildfires. We don’t think this sort of outcome is ideal for anybody.”
NZME editor-in-chief Murray Kirkness said there had been a “continual decline” in Facebook traffic in recent years, as experienced by most publishers.
“We’re certainly not reliant on it to drive traffic to our sites – we use many platforms to share our news, with an audience of more than 3.5 million across our platforms including 218,000 subscriptions,” he said.
NZME was taking an interest in “what is happening in Canada and across the world with regard to news and we’re in regular communication with Facebook”.
Warner Bros. Discovery, owner of Newshub, said social referrals were down 20 per cent year on year.
“Relying solely on these platforms as a traffic source is risky given the frequent algorithm changes and the way they prioritise news content being completely out of our control. It doesn’t concern us when we see a decline in Meta traffic as our strategy is focused on driving the majority of our audience direct to newshub.co.nz, alongside ThreeNow and Three,” said a spokeswoman.
She said the company was keeping a close eye on overseas developments, including “Meta’s response to news organisations who are rightly seeking fair value exchange for the use of their content”.
“Locally, it’s our hope that Meta will engage with news organisations and fairly compensate them in line with the Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill, recognising the great journalism from newsrooms across the country.”
RNZ said it could not provide numbers on social referrals. It said it had a diverse range of platforms and was not reliant on Facebook.
“Impartial and independent journalism is essential to open societies and healthy democracies,” a spokeswoman said.
“Meta’s blocking of news content in Canada means users are seeing only material from unverified sources in their Facebook and Instagram feeds. This risks increasing disinformation and accelerating the spread of misinformation. By making trusted news and information unavailable to users in Canada, Meta is both sending an unwelcome message and setting a precedent that doesn’t portend well.”
Meta confirmed it had made changes to its algorithm.
“As a consumer-led business, we are always in a state of change based on evolving user preferences,” said Meta head of policy New Zealand and Pacific Islands Nick McDonnell.
“Consumer interest on Facebook is increasingly shifting away from news towards creator-driven content, such as short-form video. In fact, news article links only make up about 3 per cent of what people see in Feed, whereas Reels plays account for more than half the time people spend on our apps.”
McDonnell said New Zealand’s proposed legislation “ignores the realities of how our platforms work, their voluntary nature, the preferences of the people who use them and the free value we provide news publishers”.
“We will continue to be open and transparent with the Government and publishers on our business decisions as this issue progresses.”
TVNZ said legislators should be looking at what has happened in Canada as part of their decision-making around New Zealand’s new laws.
Imitation is the sincerest form, etc...
Plenty of positive reaction to last Friday’s NZ Herald front page, based on the famous Barack Obama ‘Hope’ poster, and featuring Warriors rugby league playmaker Shaun Johnson.
It appears our friends on Australian TV panel show NRL 360 liked it so much, they reproduced it themselves, with a couple of minor tweaks and absolutely no attribution or recognition.
NZME’s head of sport Winston Aldworth has written to one of the show’s presenters, pointing out the lack of recognition.
“We have another poster lined up for this Friday, ahead of the Warriors’ victory over the Broncos. It would be great to get this cover shown on the show – with suitable attribution,” he wrote.
Today’s front page features another Warriors star, Tohu Harris.
Around the traps
My Herald colleague Bernard Orsman revealed yesterday that former TVNZ and TV3 news reporter Kate Lynch has resigned from her role as Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown’s head of communications and government relations.
IAB Awards finalists
Congratulations to all the finalists for this year’s IAB Digital Advertising Awards, with winners to be announced at a gala function at Auckland Museum in November.
As well as dozens of nominees in specialist categories across sales and ad ops, channel excellence, campaign effectiveness, and data and effectiveness, there are seven big Grand Awards.
GRAND AWARDS FINALISTS
Digital sales excellence (individual): Putting humans at the centre of a thriving AI-powered advertising ecosystem, Hannah Weir, Google; Winning 49% market share in 12 months, Sandra Scott Vistar Media.
Digital sales excellence (team): Global challengers, local heart, TVNZ; NZME agency team NZME; NZME digital direct team, Matt Fussell, NZME; WBD commercial team - digital transformation Warner Bros. Discovery
Digital product of the year: Digital Dispatch Automation Jason Nockels, Stephen Geall, NZME; NZME podcast network - prime time James Butcher, Sarah Catran, iHeart Radio and the NZME podcast network NZME; TVNZ+ stream on TVNZ
Council member of the year: Connecting ideas and people: Jake Calder’s role in shaping the IAB NZ programmatic council Jake Calder, OMD; Kate Grigg, Publicis media exchange
Emerging talent: Bella Cordwell Reason Agency; Briar Heer, Reason Agency, Ella Liddell, Together; Last Woman Standing: Kim Falleiro Acquire data-driven advertising; The over achiever award - Zola Prendeville, MBM; Walker Zhao - from adversity to achievement, GroupM NZ
Service to the industry: Pioneer, steward, and mentor in the world of digital, Richard Conway Pure SEO
2023 Agency of the Year:
Evolving Digital, Together, Together
Humans being humans - OMD’s approach to digital in 2023, OMD NZ
Leading the industry in digital ‘connections that matter’, Hearts & Science
Making the leap into digital innovation, PHD Aotearoa
Thinking beyond: a new era for MBM, MBM
Thompson Spencer Group, Wendy Thompson, Melanie Spencer
- Editor-at-Large Shayne Currie is one of New Zealand’s most experienced senior journalists and media leaders. He has held executive and senior editorial roles at NZME including Managing Editor, NZ Herald Editor and Herald on Sunday Editor and has a small shareholding in NZME.