The man now driving broadcaster MediaWorks' news operation is chief news officer Hal Crawford, in the role since July.

Crawford, an Australian, replaced industry veteran Mark Jennings and arrived after a traumatic year during which many staff were at war with corporate management, led by former chief executive Mark Weldon.

Over that time TV3 effectively pulled the plug on Campbell Live and, despite a rescue package from taxpayers to fund content, did the same to the current affairs show 3D Popular host Carolyn Robinson was dumped and Hilary Barry was poached by TVNZ.

The loss of talent has been partly balanced by the success of Paul Henry in the mornings and the transition to cross-media branding as Newshub.


Insiders I spoke to said the MediaWorks news team had made some painful transitions and had survived "with its soul intact." But like a marriage that has survived a painful psychic blow, some are still wary and hark for the old days, a well-placed source said.

Back burner

Under Weldon and with the input of board member Julie Christie, MediaWorks pulled back from its focus on news amid a flurry of new reality TV projects.

But Crawford says, "I would not have come to New Zealand if I believed news was going onto the back burner.

"Anyone that has worked in a newsroom in the past 20 years has been through upheavals"

But, he says, the newsroom "seems to have put the bad stuff behind it."

Crawford, who came to New Zealand from Ninemsn in Australia, is enamoured of the simulcast - radio, TV and digital - Paul Henry show. The programme has performed well against TVNZ (less so on radio), despite the exit of Hilary Barry to Breakfast.

There will be questions about whether the highly paid Henry would be better utilised at 7pm, replacing Story, established last year as a hurried replacement for Campbell Live.

In the end, that would also depend on Henry wanting to make the move.


Is Story safe? "I do not have any plans to change at this stage," Crawford says. He is unequivocal that there are no plans to shorten the 6pm news bulletin to half an hour, saying he would prefer more time, not less.

Digital dilemma

Crawford's special expertise is in digital media - the rapidly expanding arm of the business.

In Australia he has done respected work assessing the relationship between mainstream media and social media. Increasingly, people are consuming news that way.

He likes to get "under the hood" and analyse the referrals to Newshub coming from social media, especially Facebook - "not Twitter, which is a tool for journalists."

MediaWorks is playing catch-up in digital. Before Weldon, and while it was controlled by the Australian private equity firm Ironbridge Capital, MediaWorks was swamped in debt and underinvested in digital.

It lagged behind competitors such as TVNZ, NZME and Fairfax. Crawford sees the advent of the cross-media Newshub platform making a big difference, but the ad revenue is currently still in filmed TV shows.

He has worked in radio and traditional TV newsrooms, and bats off the obvious question about his oversight of filmed TV. Is he a little light in that area?

"Because I'm a digital guy?" he asks with the glimmer of a smile, pointing out that he worked for years for Nine Network. He also worked in radio in the Netherlands. I wondered how he divides his focus between shows, building TV3's own websites, and the new interest in social media. Are bulletins still most important?

"At the moment the 6pm bulletin is still central to the way that many New Zealanders get the news.

"The tick of approval you get from a mainstream media brand has not gone away."

Still, Crawford acknowledges the power of social media. "Our Facebook audience has grown from 270,000 to 350,000 in 8 months," he says.

Corporate shakedown

There will be questions about how long Crawford will stay, but he says is not a here on a set term contract.

Company PR woman Charlotte McLauchlan insists MediaWorks is not "actively" for sale.

But four other media companies - NZME and Fairfax, Vodafone and Sky - are waiting for merger approval and it would be naive to think MediaWorks' owner, Oaktree, would ignore offers.

A source told me that one of the issues for any sale would be the valuation of assets. Sky TV looked at buying the channel but baulked at the price tag.

Television faces big upheavals ahead - much the same as the upheavals that have cut a swathe through the print industry.

The radio operation remains the jewel in the MediaWorks crown, but things are still changing at a corporate level and - like TVNZ and Spark - MediaWorks risks being left alone if other players pair off.