Leaked internal emails reveal ‘alarming situation’ averted over Three’s 6pm news; An item featuring My Food Bag’s Nadia Lim on Seven Sharp highlights a delicate editorial-commercial balance; Sky’s technical issues; Chief rugby writer’s take on Eddie Jones.
One of my all-time favourite journalism movies is The Paper, the Ron Howard-directed story of a day in the life of a New York tabloid newspaper. Despite being released in 1994, many of its themes and character storylines are as relevant in newsrooms today as they were almost 30 years ago.
In one scene, Coca-Cola-swilling metro editor Henry Hackett (played by a brilliantly-cast Michael Keaton) meets with the paper’s editor Bernie White (Robert Duvall).
“I hate columnists, why do I have all these columnists?” bemoans White.
“I have political columnists, guest columnists, celebrity columnists ... you know what every columnist at this paper needs to do? Is to Shut. The. F***. Up.”
National Business Review publisher Todd Scott appears to be channelling an inner Duvall – he tells Media Insider the business website is dropping all its opinion columns.
Scott says the columns will cease from September 1, meaning the end of the likes of Duncan Garner, Martin Devlin, Brigitte Morten and opinion columns written internally.
“It’s a strategic move, one with a solid business case backing it,” says Scott.
He said member subscriber clients had made clear their expectations that NBR should be focused on business news and analysis.
Opinions had their place, he said, but not at the expense or distraction of a more focused newsroom.
“The new policy means that no opinion pieces will be published. This includes in-house columns. You will start to see more analysis, rather than opinion,” he said.
“Any money and all resources that go into producing these pieces will be refocused back into the newsroom. This means that we are once again in the market for another senior business journalist.”
Scott said it was a “particularly hard decision, especially with the popularity of Duncan and Marty, who I consider to be mates”.
Scott is one of the more colourful and sometimes outspoken media owners. Many publishers and editors, myself included, would consider this a risky move and one that could open the market for a competitor.
In my experience, columnists offer an important ingredient to the daily menu of breaking news, investigative journalism and features.
While editors always need to ensure they get the balance right – both in terms of the variety of voices and viewpoints and the percentage of columns versus news stories – readers absolutely have an appetite for them.
Garner, who has had a tumultuous year with the closure of Today FM, told Media Insider he had enjoyed writing for NBR, and was grateful for the work and their support. He remains focused on his daily MediaWorks podcast.
With a couple more columns to go at NBR, he’d go out with a “big bang”, he laughed.
‘I’m really sorry’: Sky CEO’s apology over Sky Box troubles
Sky CEO Sophie Moloney has issued a sincere apology for a raft of technical difficulties that have afflicted the company’s much-heralded new Sky Box and Sky Pod technologies.
Thousands of Sky customers have been upgrading their old decoders to the new Sky Box, only to be left frustrated over a range of issues, especially recording bugs.
“I spent a large part of the weekend fighting with it, wondering how we ever got someone to the Moon,” wrote NZ Herald sports columnist Chris Rattue this week.
Judging by feedback he’s received from readers, he’s not alone. Several wrote in to complain about myriad issues including recording problems, fast-forwarding and rewinding issues and channel accessibility.
Another colleague, senior business journalist and expert tech writer Chris Keall, has also outlined the issues in a range of recent articles.
“[I’m] pretty sure every single email and piece of social media feedback I’ve had about the new Sky Box has been negative – slow, buggy, finicky interface, etc,” he said.
It’s been a chastening experience for Moloney and her Sky team. But kudos to her, she fronted up to Media Insider yesterday with a full apology and a promise.
“I’m really sorry to those customers who have felt let down by the initial experience,” Moloney said. “It does pain me. I don’t like letting customers down, nor do my team.”
She said it was a big deal for her to “agree with the team that I would actually go on air and invite our customers, our loyal customers, to the new experience”.
“I know we are going to get there. Undoubtedly there are some software issues that we are fixing that have caused customers issues that they didn’t have with the old experience.”
In particular, she said, this affected those wanting to record content on the new Sky Box.
“We are fixing those [issues] as rapidly as we can. We’re prioritising the fixes based on the feedback. The latest release went out on the 8th of August and that is fixing some of those recording issues where it was sort of splitting programmes [and] stitching them back together.
“Remote record, which is an important feature, has also been fixed.”
She said the number of complaints to the company’s call centre was dropping, as the fixes were being implemented. “We’ve actually had more people calling in just to find out how they upgrade or how it works as opposed to technical faults.”
Feedback was a gift, she said. “We’re grateful to the customers who care enough actually to write in and I’m encouraging my team every day to lean in, to respond and to learn.”
Moloney will next week deliver Sky’s full-year annual result and is expected to give an indication of the scope of the issue and just how many customers have switched over to the new Box.
Sky was prioritising the Sky Box issues at this stage, in advance of the Rugby World Cup.
The Sky Pod, she says, was developed at some pace, given partner Vodafone TV’s departure from the market. The Pod is a smaller streaming device – no satellite dish required – that plugs into an HDMI output on televisions.
So far it is only been made available to former Vodafone TV customers. It cost Sky $7 million to keep Vodafone TV rolling between June and December last year, while it developed the Pod.
“We had to go out faster than we would have probably liked but I am excited about the opportunity that the Pod presents as to the future,” said Moloney.
“[With] the Pod, I just need to be sure it’s ready and we’ll be making a call on whether that goes out in time [fully] for the Rugby World Cup or just after. Certainly, I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for the Christmas season for that to be hugely performing.”
Another issue is that TVNZ channels are not automatically available on the Pod, as the two companies have yet to reach an agreement.
“It’s exciting to see the new chair and board of TVNZ,” said Moloney. “I have a lot of time for [TVNZ acting CEO] Brent McAnulty. He and I have been trying to get together. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to have some good kōrero in the next month or so.”
Meanwhile, a couple of Sky staff members have a special assignment next week – sitting alongside Moloney’s parents to get a better understanding of the issues facing customers with the new Sky Box.
“My parents are a great example where it’s been quite a big change from what they were used to. And some of it isn’t actually about how the box works; it is about how it interfaces with the TV and with the wi-fi and your apps set up.
“So again, I think that’s a big learning for me and my team – to really make sure we’re walking in the shoes of all of our customers. I know that we’re going to do that. I am confident that this will be a great experience.”
Aside from these technical issues, it should be a very exciting time for Sky, having just broadcast the Fifa Women’s World Cup and looking forward to the men’s Rugby World Cup.
Sky announced yesterday its free-to-air channel Prime would be renamed Sky Open from next Wednesday. Prime News becomes News First.
“We’ve had Prime for a long time and we’ve done a lot in terms of showcasing some amazing moments for Kiwis, but I don’t think people really knew that it was Sky,” says Moloney.
“Some New Zealanders love their moments of sporting entertainment but they can’t afford necessarily to pay for a subscription product.”
Sky Open will feature six live and six delayed Rugby World Cup games from France in September and October, including the All Blacks’ opening match and the final live.
Seven Sharp’s delicate My Food Bag line
Operating without fear or favour is a cornerstone of any news media organisation.
Commercial media organisations, including this one, work closely with clients and advertisers, while ensuring the newsroom operation maintains editorial independence.
Our advertisers are vital; I enjoy meeting with agencies and clients, to outline our editorial endeavours and to hear from them. We’re also clear we need to tell our audiences when a sponsor or advertiser has come on board for editorial projects or associated content.
“Sponsored content will be clearly marked as such,” says NZME’s editorial code of conduct, “with agreed parameters between senior editors and the commercial team.”
This can be a delicate issue, as evidenced by an episode of Seven Sharp last week.
In the middle of the show, hosts Hilary Barry and Jeremy Wells introduced a three-minute item featuring My Food Bag and Nadia Lim. In the corner of the screen, briefly, were the words “Brought to you by My Food Bag”.
The story focused on new research, commissioned by My Food Bag, into Kiwis’ dinner-time habits. Barry said, “We’ve partnered with My Food Bag to reveal some of the insights”. An interviewer spoke to Lim about the findings, before Barry and Wells spoke to her directly.
While it might have appeared to some viewers to be editorial, TVNZ confirmed it was sponsored content, saying the formats of Breakfast and Seven Sharp allowed for such commercial arrangements.
“TVNZ is a commercially-funded business,” said a spokeswoman. “The support of our advertising partners pays for our journalism. Transparency in advertising is important to us. We mark our integrations with a verbal and visual acknowledgement. Not all our competitors do this.
“While integrations make sense for shows like Seven Sharp and Breakfast which traverse news and lifestyle content, 1News bulletins and current affairs programming (Fair Go, Sunday, Q+A, Te Karere) do not take this type of advertising material. We think we’ve got the balance right.”
The spokeswoman cited several other sponsors who had worked with Seven Sharp over the years.
“We have a rigorous process to ensure every partnership story we produce on the show is a great editorial fit ... and as you’ve seen, we partnered with My Food Bag last week to discuss their research into dinner time rituals.”
The piece was also interesting in the sense Lim is once again prominent again in promoting My Food Bag. The company’s financial performance is under heavy scrutiny, its share price at 19 cents last night.
An ‘alarming situation’ averted
Mike McRoberts and Oriini Kaipara assumed a usual air of calm authority on Three’s Newshub Live at Six last night. Behind the scenes, there was something of a worrying, albeit temporary, panic in the build-up to the bulletin, judging by internal emails.
“We have an alarming situation tonight which I don’t believe has ever happened before,” wrote Newshub supervising producer Kim Hurring in a 10.30am email to news staff. “There is no DA [Director’s Assistant] to put the 6pm news to air.”
This meant, she said, reporters needed to be extra vigilant when it came to entering details for their visuals, graphics and baselines.
A follow-up email from another senior producer outlined the dangers, including a “higher risk of on-air errors”.
The emails were leaked to Media Insider in the context of a recent Newsroom article by former TV3 news boss Mark Jennings in which he reported the broadcaster has apparently struggled to fill its seven-day news roster because of cutbacks and a sinking lid policy.
However, a Warner Bros. Discovery New Zealand spokeswoman said the DA role was, in fact, covered last night.
“The person who was rostered to DA for tonight has had to call in sick, and it unfortunately coincided with another team member being away on annual leave,” she said.
“We found someone to DA within an hour of the initial email (which was preparing for worst-case – as newsies do). We also had other options to move DAs from other Newshub shows, if we had needed to.”
Staff were apparently alerted to the replacement DA about 3.30pm, eight minutes after Media Insider emailed questions to Warner Bros. Discovery.
Industry news in brief
- NZME has become 100 per cent shareholder of property portal OneRoof – acquiring the 20 per cent holding of Hougarden.com for $2.1 million, “allowing us to have full control over growing the platform and becoming indispensable to real estate agents across the country”, says NZME CEO Michael Boggs. “NZME views the property industry as an area of future growth and untapped potential ...”
- Congratulations to all the finalists in this year’s TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards, with winners to be announced on September 6 at Spark Arena. Finalists for marketer of the year are Diane Clark (Foodstuffs), Sandra Daniel (Oceania) and Simon Hofmann (Kiwibank). Finalists for marketing team of the year are Kids Ride Shotgun, Kiwibank, Oceania, One New Zealand, Rascal + Friends and Rockit Global. Good luck to everyone across the myriad categories.
- I sat down for an in-depth interview with Warner Bros. Discovery boss Glen Kyne yesterday to discuss the state of the New Zealand media market and the future direction of his business; that interview will appear as a Media Insider special this weekend.
- BusinessDesk’s Daniel Dunkley reports: “The government says it is no longer “desirable” for it to fund news publishers due to the risk of undermining trust in the media. The comment was made as ministers released the Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill, new legislation to compel technology platforms to pay for hosting news content.”
Former NBR co-editor launches new platform
Former NBR senior journalist and co-editor Fiona Rotherham is leading the editorial charge on a new online content site, Caffeine Daily.
The website is targeted at New Zealand’s start-up community and entrepreneurs.
“Our mission is to be the way our community connects and shares – to accelerate Aotearoa New Zealand toward outperforming the world at creating, scaling, and exiting extraordinary start-ups. We see a future where our founders are far better connected and networked – to each other, those who can help them, and their peers around the world.”
In a manifesto, the company says founders “face unending challenges in creating and scaling their innovative companies – but they’re not alone”.
“For any of these challenges, there’s almost certainly someone in our ecosystem that founders can tap into and learn from ...
“We will solve this problem – starting with daily reporting with and from the founder community. This reporting will stand apart from the news reporting in the existing business media. We’re not here to report on the ecosystem to the general public; we’re here to report from our ecosystem to founders. We want to capture and distil the lessons founders have learnt and share those with other founders, so they benefit from the successes, failures and hacks of founders who’ve gone before.”
Caffeine’s co-founders are Julie Gill and James Hurman.
Gill, who will act as publisher and CEO, has been previously the managing director of IDG, publisher of Unlimited magazine and a general manager of Fairfax NZ’s business division. Hurman, the founding partner of Previously Unavailable, will act as director and strategic adviser.
One Good Text
This week, we speak with Herald chief rugby writer Liam Napier.
The death of Parky
Very sad news overnight, with the announcement that legendary UK talkshow host Sir Michael Parkinson has died, aged 88.
Writer Steve Braunias has previously described Parkinson’s biography of footballer George Best as his favourite book of all time – I bought the book online on Braunias’ recommendation. “A true classic!” Braunias texted me. “Genuinely thrilling. Best later disowned the book, saying he was drunk during his interviews but it’s the kind of drunk which is completely honest.”
I read Parkinson’s own biography earlier this year – a rollicking read. I recently interviewed Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and quoted a great line from Parkinson about her from that book.
Parkinson wrote of introducing Dame Kiri at an open-air concert in the UK. “She had sung a sublime version of Summertime, I asked her what was going through her mind as she created a sound of such purity and beauty. She said, ‘Halfway through the song, I saw three ducks flying across my line of vision and I thought, I wish I’d brought my gun’.”
- 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.