On Wednesday, the man in charge of TVNZ's entire news operation resigned after an independent review of the hiring practices that brought now disgraced presenter Kamahl Santamaria to the station. Paul Yurisich had spent roughly 18 months as TVNZ's head of new and current affairs, overseeing a "digital transformation" of the state broadcaster. In doing so, it's claimed he ruffled the feathers of many long-standing TVNZ staff, leading to a series of disgruntled resignations.
It is impossible not to see Paul Yurisich's demise at TVNZ as a direct result of hiring his former Al Jazeera colleague Kamahl Santamaria.
But TVNZ's Auckland bureau was not a cohesive newsroom even before the MeToo controversy that engulfed the national news cycle for a fortnight in late May.
The decision to shoulder-tap Santamaria in late 2021/early 2022 from his role as a high-profile presenter at international news station Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar, without any reference checks blew up as spectacularly as possible.
Just 32 days into 42-year-old Santamaria's hosting duties of Breakfast, a complaint by a younger female TVNZ staffer was made against him.
As another former female colleague posted on a private group chat full of other Al Jazeera journalists following Santamaria's subsequent resignation on May 28:
"Getting away with it for 16 years and boom 32 days in a normal country. 32 days. Must have thought he was invincible."
But when veteran Kiwi producer Yurisich arrived at TVNZ in late-2020, after 15-odd years at Al Jazeera and Bloomberg, it was to modernise a newsroom deemed old-fashioned.
Then TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick had apparently desperately wanted a woman to front their news operations and Stuff chief executive Sinead Boucher had been in their sights before dramatically buying Stuff for $1 off Nine News in Australia in May 2020.
The top editorial job at TVNZ became available after long-standing head of news and current affairs John Gillespie departed on June 26, 2020.
The change in leadership came after a turbulent period for the state broadcaster.
Co-anchor of the 6pm nightly bulletin, Wendy Petrie, had been sacked after 14 years in the role in favour of Simon Dallow as part of restructuring cost-cutting measures, and there was some mild damage control in order.
TVNZ was no different than any other media organisation during New Zealand's first Covid wave of autumn 2020 when unprecedented financial uncertainty and a dramatic drop in advertising revenue led to mass redundancies.
TVNZ sacked 90 staff, just as MediaWorks did 130 staff, and the Herald's parent company NZME made 200 people redundant in mid-2020.
So Yurisich arrived with an agenda for renewal at TVNZ. Above all, this was to prioritise the online and digital departments of the newsroom.
Many journalists with experience in international broadcasting newsrooms commented on the enduring prominence of the 6pm bulletin in TVNZ's daily workflow.
It was the overwhelming focus of the daily news-gathering efforts.
Yurisich came in to shake this up, and unsurprisingly he angered many long-standing TVNZ staff in doing so.
"TVNZ's so old-school and things are done how they've always been done, and here is this guy who had come from overseas and said 'why are we still doing it this way?' so he was trying to mix things up," one former TVNZ employee told the Herald.
"So, it was hard to know, if it was people getting ruffled feathers because it was someone trying to do it a bit differently now. But I do know he made people not want to be at work and if he stepped in to question something it was always a drama," the employee alleged.
And while Santamaria was unquestionably the most problematic hire Yurisich oversaw, he is responsible for an influx of former colleagues from the Al Jazeera Doha newsroom to TVNZ's Auckland bureau.
The most senior of these was fellow Kiwi, Mereana Hond, who Yurisich brought over from Al Jazeera to become TVNZ's Head of Digital for News and Current Affairs.
With that hire came a significant increase in the budget of TVNZ's online digital department.
Much of this was spent on extra new online staff - several of whom were again either directly recruited for Al Jazeera in Doha, or were former Al Jazeera staff already back in New Zealand.
Staff tensions in the TVNZ newsroom had already reached a breaking point in early 2022, even before Santamaria had arrived.
The news and current affairs department had registered one of the lowest self-report staff satisfaction surveys in recent memory.
It is understood the News and Current Affairs department rated so much lower than the rest of all other TVNZ departments in worker satisfaction that chief executive Simon Power began meeting personally with staffers to see what was going on.
There had also been a string of senior resignations.
Former TVNZ senior staffers Roihana Nuri, the executive producer of Maori news station Te Karere; Miranda Fisher, a senior producer for Breakfast; Jonathan Williams, the 6pm News supervising producer; and Andrew Hay, a long-standing TVNZ sports editor, all resigned in the last six months.
In the last few months Tasha Impey, the head of TVNZ's online youth news platform Re:, has also resigned after returning from maternity leave.
It only took one month for Impey to resign following alleged tensions with Hond, the new head of TVNZ digital.
The Herald understands three new senior roles were created similar to Impey's old role while she was on parental leave -two of which went to former Al Jazeera staff - and she did not feel there was a place for her in the new digital team on her return.
TVNZ Breakfast senior producer Miranda Fisher is understood to have resigned in April over issues of a lack of support and prioritisation from newsroom management. Fisher refused to comment when contacted by the Herald.
And executive producer of Te Karere, Roihana Nuri, is also understood to have resigned after tensions with Hond.
The TVNZ newsroom has also seen the departure of around half a dozen junior to mid-level journalists over the last six to eight months - with many moving to competing media organisations.
A poorly rated self-report survey from TVNZ staffers in Wellington also led some Auckland newsroom managers to travel down to the capital to meet with staff there following the protests at Parliament.
It is also understood one reporter had a breakdown following reporting on the protests.
TVNZ would also not comment on this incident but listed a number of measures they have in place to support staff wellbeing, including unlimited access to counselling; an annual wellbeing allowance to access wellness activities, fitness and health; support tools; and leadership training for managers.
"We take the wellbeing of our people seriously. It's important all TVNZers feel supported, whether they are in front of a camera or behind it," a TVNZ spokesperson said.
Likewise, TVNZ refused to comment on the list of resignations the broadcaster has suffered in 2022 other than to acknowledge the pressured labour market in New Zealand.
"We don't comment on individual employment matters. TVNZ, like a lot of companies in New Zealand, is experiencing the pressures of a tight labour market and the subsequent increase in turnover that comes with that," the TVNZ spokesperson said.
But despite these claims of animosity from some at TVNZ to Yurisich, many current staff were also complimentary about his attention to detail and engagement with every level of the newsroom.
"He was much more involved than Gillespie," one staffer claimed.
"He'd say hello to everyone in the morning. He'd come over and raise small problems he saw online and with our coverage."
Yurisich's alleged tendency to micromanage was raised by several TVNZ staffers the Herald spoke to, and it seems it was appreciated and resented in equal degree, depending on the individual.
Such contrasting opinions of Yurisich were also reflected in the former Al Jazeera colleagues of his the Herald spoke to.
One former colleague said Yurisich was one of the only people at the Doha newsroom she remembers really having that much to do with Santamaria beyond a work context, and that the two were friendly.
But she was not complimentary of Yurisich's managerial style, and said he "lacked the skills" to be head of a newsroom.
"He's always played favourites. He's always created an environment around him of yes men, and some yes women, and that's why people have had his back for so long," the former Al Jazeera female staffer claimed.
However, another senior female journalist at Al Jazeera was highly complimentary about Yurisich's leadership and skills.
"As for Paul Yurisich, or Yuri as I know him, my experience with him was lovely. I've never heard anyone say a bad word about him to be honest, and that goes for bullying too. He was a trusted member of staff you could go to to deal with the daily nonsense in that place [Al Jazeera's Doha newsroom]," the senior journalist said.
"I'm quite upset to learn that Yuri's been [put on leave]. He's a really good bloke, a good journalist and a good manager. I'd take the vitriol from disgruntled staffers with a pinch of salt. No one likes change, I don't think he should carry the can for this. If he knew about Kamahl's behaviour and hired him that's different but he should get a chance to explain. He doesn't deserve a character assassination."
In contrast, several female staff at Al Jazeera the Herald spoke to found it hard to believe Yurisich would not have been aware of the inappropriate comments and behaviour they allege Santamaria regularly made in the Doha newsroom for more than 10 years.
Yurisich departs his role at TVNZ after chief executive Simon Power commissioned a review in late May of the recruitment policies that led to Santamaria's hiring.
Yurisich had been on leave since then, with the review being undertaken by employment lawyer Margaret Robins.
On Wednesday, Robins' summary of the findings and recommendations were released. They found TVNZ's recruitment policy was not applied in the hiring of Santamaria, who "was recruited without meaningful input from key individuals".
But the review found that "the absence of two independent verbal references was in accordance with TVNZ's historic practice when recruiting well known presenters".
What Robins did find that differed from TVNZ's established recruitment practice was "Santamaria had virtually no public profile in New Zealand, and due to Covid, he was not screen-tested to assess his compatibility with his co-presenters".
Robins also found TVNZ's editor of content, executive producer of the show, CPO and P&C GM News & Current Affairs were not sufficiently consulted regarding Santamaria's hiring.
With the findings also came Yurisich's resignation.
"Paul has spearheaded a digital transformation for our newsroom which has set TVNZ up strongly for the future, and we are grateful for his dedication, and the results he has delivered," TVNZ chief executive Simon Power said in a release.
"This time was, of course, framed by the Covid-19 pandemic through which Paul led TVNZ's News and Current Affairs team in the midst of incredible newsgathering and operational challenges."
The Herald reached Yurisich at his home on Auckland's Waiheke Island on Thursday morning.
He had no other comment than that he wanted to relax for a while.
"It's been a tough six or seven weeks," he said.
Santamaria is still yet to be seen since the controversy began.