13 Mar 2017

New outlet’s egg scoop raises big issues

From Mediawatch, 7:55 am on 13 March 2017

A new online news service launched this week, led by two experienced news editors who promised to cover "the things that matter".

Countdown has removed a brand of free-range eggs from its shelves following claims that many are in fact cage-laid eggs.

By mid-morning on Monday, Countdown was removing Palace Poultry's eggs from its shelves. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Melanie Reid is one of the country's best known foot-in-the door TV journalists. Down the years, she exposed many people up to no good on TV3's 60 Minutes, Campbell Live and 3rd Degree.

But talking about news has largely replaced going out and getting it on current affairs shows, and Reid has been out of work on TV and out of sight in recent times - until now.

In Newsroom's launch-day scoop, she confronted Aaron Fletcher with a hidden camera about supplying eggs from caged hens as free-range ones on a large scale.

Not all of the story is in her 12-minute video, but the accompanying online story has much more about the investigation, the relevant regulations and a previous prosecution in a similar case.

Photo: Screenshot

We might have heard much of this in time anyway, as the Serious Fraud Office was reportedly already on the case. But this story was about much more than one bad egg.

It called into question the integrity of free-range eggs in supermarkets. Countdown's advertising currently says it doesn't sell cage eggs any more. By mid-morning on Monday, it had announced eggs supplied by the company were being taken off the shelves.

Clearly this fits the bill as something "that matters". Anyone who has paid a premium for free-range eggs will want the know the truth.

What is Newsroom.co.nz?

When Melanie Reid was doing reports like this for TV3, her news boss there was Newsroom co-founder Mark Jennings. He resigned last year and went into business with Tim Murphy, the editor of the New Zealand Herald for a decade-and-a-half until 2015.

Mark Jennings and Tim Murphy

Mark Jennings, left, and Tim Murphy Photo: RNZ / Dru Faulkner

In May last year, Tim Murphy told Mediawatch they were planning the new site because the main news websites were "turning the digital space to tabloidism". 

Mr Jennings said he hoped the website would be a New Zealand version of The Guardian, but that is a digital-first global outfit backed by an enormous non-profit trust. Newsroom was starting from scratch in a small market already occupied by big news publishers and earlier start-ups. 

Newsroom incorporated existing independent news services newsroom.co.nz and Hive News, a service for subscribers run by financial journalist and commentator Bernard Hickey.

By today's launch, a team of 16 journalists had been assembled and crucially four "foundation sponsors" - Chorus, Holden, the University of Auckland and Victoria University.

What does the new site offer?

In addition to news, Newsroom's content is in four sections. Viewingroom covers the arts, media and screen stuff. Livingroom has lifestyle stuff, mostly from the magazine Life and Leisure. Sportsroom is self-explanatory. Boardroom covers business and economics and is the basis of subscription service Newsroom Pro.

On Newsroom's launch day Hickey wrote about new Finance Minister Steven Joyce preventing the Reserve Bank from pursuing new measures to tighten mortgage lending.

The CEO of Z Energy quizzed in a long Newsroom video interview - the first in a weekly series.

The CEO of Z Energy quizzed in a long Newsroom video interview. Photo: screenshot

In the first of a weekly series of interviews with business leaders, Rod Oram had a 16-minute video chat with the CEO of Z Energy, who made eyebrow-raising criticisms of the government's plan for the Paris climate change agreement targets.

Murphy, meanwhile, compared the difficulty of predicting the Commerce Commission's upcoming decision on the major media merger of NZME and Fairfax with "Cold War-era kremlinology". 

"Its modus operandi is to consult widely but share minimally," he wrote.

But recently Murphy himself tweeted that he'd had a long chat about it all with commission staff. Surely the Politburo weren't big on briefing independent journalists by phone back in the USSR?

Academic hook-up

One section of Newsroom that breaks new ground is Future Learning, featuring academics from the University of Auckland and Victoria University. 

Victoria University's Dr Bevan Marten writes about the environmental hazards of cruise ships. It was the focus of a major investigation by the ABC in Australia recently, but it has been almost unreported here.  

In Australia the UK and elsewhere, universities have created and funded their own platform - The Conversation - to publish the analysis of their experts. In the absence of a local version, Newsroom's editors tapped into a good source of stories you won't see elsewhere in the media.