20 Sep 2015

Shake-up at NZME

From Mediawatch, 9:09 am on 20 September 2015

New Zealand Media and Entertainment says its print, digital and radio news will come together in a "world class newsroom". Its top brass say this won't change individual "brands" such as the New Zealand Herald. Is that possible if rumoured redundancies follow?

Last Wednesday, The New Zealand Herald reported that its owner NZME was planning one “integrated, multi-platform, 24/7 operation” in Auckland. A big move – it involves newsgathering for the company's papers, radio stations (including Newstalk ZB and Radio Sport) and its websites.

It will be led by its managing editor Shayne Currie, said The Herald, and he will report to NZME chief executive Jane Hastings, who said:

It will unlock the talent and energy of separated news teams to more efficiently contribute news reporting, feature writing, video, photography, design and production to wherever it is needed.

The Herald didn’t have to work too hard for this story though– it’s identical to NZME’s corporate press release announcing the same thing.

The press release – and The Herald - quoted Shayne Currie as saying this is driven by what the audience wants, and NZME will be investing in new roles, training and development.

The downside

All of that sounds like good news, but when asked about redundancies, Shayne Currie said the company was "consulting with our newsroom teams to ensure we create a newsroom with the appropriate skill sets to deliver the best news, sport and entertainment content across all platforms”.

Clearly not a confirmation that jobs weren't on the line.

On Thursdsay, rumours were rife that three senior writers at the The Herald would go; columnist Michele Hewitson – author of the Weekend Herald interview feature, media writer John Drinnan and long-serving columnist Brian Rudman.

Mediawatch, and others asking about this, got this statement from Shayne Currie:

We are in consultation with employees over the proposed plans for our new newsroom in Auckland and we cannot discuss further until that process is complete.

Mediawatch had no luck getting an interview about the implications of the new integrated news operation either - a PR advisor sent us Wednesday's corporate press release instead.

Longterm plan

The plan for a one-stop news shop in Auckland isn't entirely new. In 2012, Shayne Currie told Mediawatch:

We will have one big integrated newsroom. I'm convinced of that. We've refurbished the newsroom over the last 12 months. We're all in one big newsroom together. Although there has been restructuring over the past five years, we have been focussed on not losing our reporting strength.

NZME’s not the first media company to mash together all its different media in order to be fit for the digital future, and then say it's all driven by audience demand. And in the press statement this week, Jane Hastings said NZME's latest rejig will "not impact on individual brands” which will "retain their unique perspective and tone".

But recently the paper cut loose several columnists unique to The Herald - Paul Casserly, James Griffin, Dita De Boni, Jock Anderson and Peter Calder. Many columnists the paper has retained are personalities from TV and radio, several of them appear on other NZME networks.    

If more experienced and specialised writers are lost in the process of inetegrating operations, its hard to see how the “unique perspective and tone” of NZME's brands can survive unchanged - or if that's what the audience really wants.