Our best media people are in the wrong jobs
Auckland, December 18, 2018
Are we seeing and hearing less of some of our best broadcast journalists than we should? A look at changes in the media.
December can be a hectic month in radio and television. The broadcasters are busy sorting their line-ups for next year before they hit what is called the ‘Silly Season’.
This is the period between Christmas and mid-January where there is often very little real news, the numbers of viewers and listeners drop, and newsrooms operate on skeleton staffs.
Many of the stories that make it to air in this period are just ‘silly.’
Changes at NZB and RNZ
Bar one or two exceptions, the major news and current affairs programmes will go into 2019 with largely unchanged line-ups.
Kerre McIvor will sit in Leighton Smith’s well-worn chair at Newstalk ZB and RNZ will advertise for someone to replace Morning Report host Guyon Espiner, but otherwise the same faces and voices will return.
The Smith/McIvor move was well signalled and is likely to be a smooth transition even though McIvor is more liberal in her outlook and commentary than the very conservative Smith.
Espiner’s move to a roving role came out of the blue and surprised the media world when RNZ announced it at the end of last week.
It is also a big problem for the public broadcaster, which has now lost top hosts from its two premier programmes – Morning Report and Checkpoint. John Campbell left Checkpoint earlier in the year to join TVNZ as a roving reporter.
The ‘Roving Reporter’ has become quite a thing in the past year with former Newshub Political Editor
Paddy Gower is also taking on the mantle at Mediaworks.
These roving roles do not exist as specific jobs but are created to retain or attract high profile talent like Espiner, Campbell and Gower. When the person they were created for moves on or picks up an anchoring position on another programme, the ‘Roving Role’ disappears.
Whilst all three are highly talented journalists, it means that none of them will be doing the jobs that they were hired for and brought high value to their organisations.
Viewers get to see or hear a lot less of them.
Since joining TVNZ, Campbell has made minor contributions to Q+A and Sunday.
He turned up in Japan to cover the All Blacks match in Yokohama and did an entertaining story about Japanese trains. He will no doubt be making a case for returning to that country when it hosts next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Campbell loves Rugby and has a good knowledge of the game. But is this really a good use of one of the country’s top interviewers?
Campbell took over Checkpoint in early 2016 from the highly respected Mary Wilson.
In many ways, he and producer Pip Keane transformed the Programme, reaching out to a wider audience through social media, continuing the campaigns that hey started at Campbell Live (e.g. keeping the spotlight on the victims of the Christchurch earthquakes) and bringing Campbell’s strong interviewing skills to bear on all manner of subjects.
With Campbell in charge, the Programme reasserted itself as a powerful force in the media landscape, but the man many regard as the ‘People’s Champion,’ lasted less than less than two years on Checkpoint.
Guyon Espiner has done five years on Morning Report and became, with Campbell, Gower, Kim Hill, Kathryn Ryan and Lisa Owen, one of New Zealand’s best interviewers.
So, suddenly Espiner, Campbell and Gower are no longer in the jobs that really matter, working on the programmes that really make a difference to the national “
About Patrick Gower
Gower is shockingly wasted (no pun intended) on making a documentary on cannabis for Three. By the time he is finished travelling the US states that have legalised the drug, the debate could well be over.
With Newshub Live at 6pm still by-and-large being monstered in the ratings by 1News, Mediaworks needs a proven story breaker like Gower to be a constant presence in its bulletins.
Since Gower stepped down as political editor, Newshub’s political coverage hasn’t had the same weight.
His replacement, Tova O’Brien, is hardworking but at the moment lacks Gower’s uncanny ability to present political coverage in a way that makes it interesting and relevant to a really wide cross-section of viewers.
Big Media and Big Hitters
Espiner will do some good investigative work and hopefully TVNZ will give Campbell something more substantial to get his teeth into in 2019.
But the fact remains the big media outfits will have their big hitters making only sporadic appearances in prime time.
The reason Campbell, Espiner and Gower are now all ‘roving’ is something that is not discussed much by the media industry although most news executives privately acknowledge it’s a significant problem – burnout.
The hours, which either start ridiculously early or end late, are long and don’t end when the studio commitments are over.
Most programme hosts spend the rest of their time either preparing for the next day or trying to stay across major or developing news stories.
Espiner had a long stint as a political editor (one of the most demanding jobs in television), a period working in current affairs at TV3 and then five years of getting up at 4 am to work on Morning Report.
Gower went through two elections as political editor at 3 News/Newshub while also contributing to The Nation and the network’s early morning programme.
Campbell did 10 years on Campbell Live where he presented and reported most nights of the week. He did have a break before starting his two-year stint with Checkpoint but the stress of that earlier decade in daily current affairs, and his strenuous attempts to save Campbell Live, has taken its toll.
Young families’ demand
All three had young families while they were working in these demanding jobs.
Of course, these roles are well paid and it is not easy for the networks which don’t have, and can’t afford, a reserve bench of high impact players like the All Blacks.
Viewers and listeners also like continuity and regular substitution of hosts is risky.
It invites loyal audiences to sample new things and advantages the competition which, despite our relatively small media market, is intense.
Success of Rugby Union
But maybe our media bosses do need to look at the success the NZRU has had in prolonging the playing careers of its top talent – Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Ben Smith etc.
Similar sabbaticals for our broadcasting stars would strain their employers’ finances but might be cost effective in the long run, stop the burnout and give audiences what they really want – the best people in the toughest jobs.
The queue combers will have plenty of job security for a while yet.
Mark Jennings is the Co-Founder and Co-Editor of Newsroom, New Zealand’s high-quality, independent media organisation. Indian Newslink has published the above Report and Pictures under a Special Agreement with Newsroom.