MediaWorks cuts the last tie to the past

MediaWorks’ decision to cut its ties with Newshub and establish its own news service was inevitable.

The news bulletin service it took from Newshub after the news service’s sale to Discovery as part of the Three deal was a compromise that could not stand the test of time.

The latest development is back to the future: Originally, the radio and television arms operated separate newsrooms. Admittedly, it was an accident of history. Three started out as a television-only enterprise with its own news service. Radio was added to the mix in 2004 with the purchase of Radioworks, which also had its own journalists. They operated as stand-alone newsrooms until Newshub was created in 2014 when Mark Weldon was at the helm.

There was sense in operating a combined television and radio newsroom while both were under the same roof. In Australia, the ABC operates a combined newsroom, as does the BBC in the Britain. State-owned radio and television news services in this country, however, have been divided since 1975 when the two state-owned television networks and radio went their separate ways.

The rationale for integration dissolves when the assets are owned by two entirely separate companies as is the case with Discovery and MediaWorks. And, apart from the corporate separation, there are good editorial reasons for the split.

MediaWorks is a company with a strong emphasis on talk. The ability to call on journalists outside set news bulletins is intrinsic to that sort of programming but it will not work if the journalists are trying to serve two masters. MediaWorks needs to call its journalists its own.

The corporate divide is also accompanied by an increasingly faulty connection in the simulcast programmes that have been a feature of Three’s morning offering, beginning with Paul Henry that was simulcast on Three and radio Live. The current incarnation, The AM Show, has become increasingly visually oriented. That’s hardly surprising as, after all, it is television. However, the translation to radio on Magic Talk forces the listener to imagine what the viewer sees.

The radio broadcaster’s ability to make demands on Discovery is clearly limited and the obvious answer was to opt out of the supply agreement and finalise the divorce from the old company.

Starting its own weekday breakfast radio show will make it more competitive in this lucrative part of the market, even if Mike Hosking currently has a choke hold on the slot over at NewstalkZB. The choice of Tova O’Brien — who will leave her role as Newshub’s political editor — as host may well give ‘The Hosk’ something to start worrying about. And NZME may have had a bead of sweat break out on its corporate forehead on Thursday with the announcement that Duncan Garner and Rachel Smalley – two consummate broadcasters – were also joining the MediaWorks talk lineup.

MediaWorks is hiring up to 20 journalists and there will certainly be many potential candidates as Discovery downsizes its newsroom following the loss of business. It has also made a solid choice in appointing Dallas Gurney as director of news and talk ahead of the divorce announcement. Gurney brings a wealth of radio experience, including his role as editor-in-chief and general manager of NZME’s NewstalkZB and Radio Sport.

However, big question remain: What gaps will be left in a relatively small newsroom that must be tailored to MediaWorks finances? And will it be able to replace some of the talent that has been provided under the previous arrangement?

Don’t be surprised to see MediaWorks enter another content supply or sharing arrangement with other media organisations to bolster its own resources. Or it might be more ambitious and look for merger and acquisition opportunities to fill the gaps.

And we can start speculating who both MediaWorks and Three might pick as their Wellington-based political editor to replace the formidable Tova O’Brien.

* This item was edited after it was initially posted in order to reflect announcements made by MediaWorks on Tuesday and Thursday.

Lessons children teach us

The best teachers learn from their students and there are some valuable lessons in how secondary school pupils react to online content.

Associate Professor Geoff Lealand from Waikato University has updated research he carried out in 2016 on the use of audio-visual content in the classroom and it contains two clear messages: Students respond positively to content that is short, uses humour, and relates to their lives or cultural background. They respond negatively to content featuring ‘talking heads’ or ‘experts’ or considered ‘old’.

Lealand’s current report (https://www.nzonair.govt.nz/research/nz-screen-content-use-schools-2021/) was based on 186 questionaires that were completed by teachers. The questionaire had been distributed throughout New Zealand although half the respondents were from Auckland and Waikato secondary schools. The audio-visual content he analysed had a broad definition from feature film, short film, television programmes and documentaries, to touch-screen apps, online resource portals and other forms of media content including news websites. The emphasis was on locally produced media.

The attraction of short content may be a function of the school timetable being divided into hour-long periods, or it may resonate with pupils who, in the words of one teacher, have “shocking attention spans”. Humour, however, strikes a chord with most pupils. Younger secondary pupils like lighter material although senior students are receptive to darker, more challenging content.

Content must be ‘relatable’ if it is to attract pupils’ attention. Lealand identified age level, ethnicity, interests and life experiences as key drivers. He said such material needed to provide role models and authentic connections to the communities to which students belonged, as well as accounting for the twin strands of biculturalism and multiculturalism. He described such local content as a ‘reflective mirror’ in the lives of students.

His 2021 findings repeat his conclusion of five years ago that students are prone to ‘age discrimination’. They respond negatively to content they perceive as ‘old’ – either in terms of when it was produced or if it is fronted by adults or ‘experts’.

If teachers reflect their pupils’ likes and dislikes, there is some good news for local news media in the research.

  • Stuff.co.nz did not feature in the 2016 research but has emerged as an important resource site for teachers
  • TVNZ has maintained a high level of use, which has been assured by the expansion of its On Demand services (as is the case with TV3 On Demand and Māori TV On Demand)
  • The New Zealand Herald online site, which also did not appear in the 2016 list of sites, is regarded as an important resource
  • RadioNZ, despite no longer providing the youth-oriented The Wireless website (ceased 2018), remains an important site for teachers
  • The Spinoff is an important destination for more than half (52%) of teachers in this survey

Lealand’s report includes a graph of online sites accessed frequently by teachers. It is instructive.

Although Geoff Lealand’s research is focused on teaching resources, the preferences displayed by pupils (and their teachers) suggest the present one-size-fits-all approach used by traditional news media will not work. The current approach relies heavily on ‘talking-head’ experts, but that disengages the young. If MSM go shorter-lighter-younger (the clickbait generation approach) it may attract a young audience but will risk alienating older users.

Could there be room for youth-dedicated media? That may be too big a step in Covid-plagued, financially uncertain times but there certainly is scope to segment the market to specifically delineate a younger audience. In Britain, the BBC will relaunch BBC Three next year, aiming it at the 16-34 market. Perhaps it will further segment its programming to reflect some of the attitudes that Geoff Lealand has identified here.

And in this country, the NZ on Air money that has been allocated to Te Tiriti initiatives under the Public Interest Journalism Fund will bear fruit among a teenage audience.

 

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