29 Jun 2018

Media looks for meaning in Campbell career move

From Mediawatch, 5:42 pm on 29 June 2018

John Campbell joined RNZ determined to lure TV viewers to Checkpoint. Three years later he’s heading back to TV - and leaving media pondering precisely why.  

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Photo: RNZ

The career choices of household name TV presenters are always big news for the media, but sometimes they struggle to get the perspective right.

Newshub at 6 went over the top on Hilary Barry's decision to quit MediaWorks in 2016 with the claim the “shock resignation dominated all forms of media.”

Many pieces were published speculating about what had pushed her out the door of the broadcaster where she had worked for more than 20 years.

The not-very-surprising announcement she’d joined the nation’s only other major TV broadcaster came a few weeks later.

Big name broadcasters weigh up their options all the time and most are open to better offers.

John Campbell himself left RNZ's Saturday Morning behind in 2002 to focus on his TV3 work. Three years later he created Campbell Live with fellow TV3 presenter and producer Carol Hirschfeld.

The front page of the Weekend Herald dominated by Hilary Barry quitting TV3.

No other news on the Weekend Herald's front page. Photo: SCREENSHOT

In September he will be reunited with Hilary Barry at TVNZ. 

In a statement he said he wanted to take the opportunity to report from around the country for a variety of programmes, rather than front the same one night after night, as he’s done for many years now.

That didn't stop the rest of the media looking for other ‘push factors’.

One was that RNZ didn't get as much in the Budget in May as it might have hoped. The sudden and startling resignation of his former TV3 colleague Carol Hirschfeld was another.

The recent departures of senior RNZ reporters and a sense that the multi-media transformation at RNZ had stalled were also mooted.

A sideline one-off live gig at TVNZ alongside the broadcaster’s go-to guy for factual shows Nigel Latta was also cited  - with hindsight - as a sign Campbell wanted a change.

RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson told Stuff the decision “did not come out of the blue” and it “made sense in terms of him wanting to get off the daily grind".

But when he arrived at RNZ, Campbell didn't seem daunted by that. 

He spoke about connecting with audiences which hadn’t been listening to RNZ in the past - and “competing with the telly”.

“This programme’s going to be on at the time people drive through the traffic and turn the TV on. Bugger that”, he told Mediawatch in August 2015.

“If they want pictures, we’ll give them pictures,” he said bullishly.

Checkpoint with John Campbell got going the following year after an audio-visual studio was built from scratch and a production team assembled, including former Campbell Live producer Pip Keane.

In 2015, Campbell also told Mediawatch the process of campaigning to save Campbell Live from the axe at TV3 convinced him of "an obligation to do the best journalism". 

"I feel it more strongly now than I've felt at any time since I started in journalism in 1989," he said. 

"I'm here because RNZ is a public broadcaster that first and foremost does journalism. It's not a 'tricks' place, there's no juggling, no dumbing down. I'm here because the journalism matters. This is the place for me to do it. I'm absolutely certain."

John Campbell on Mediawatch - August 2015

Clearly, something about that has changed. 

Campbell Live ran for a decade in the cut-throat climate of prime-time commercial television. 

Just two and a half years after Checkpoint with John Campbell hit the airwaves  - and the screen - RNZ must now plan for Checkpoint without him.