Hard News by Russell Brown


Changing the News

This week's Media7 looks at the restructuring of TVNZ's news and current affairs operation, announced last week. The immediate response from critics has been to decry yet another round of cuts at the state broadcaster.

But, despite the loss of about 15 jobs, I don't think that's necessarily the right way to look at it. The news business is changing – most obviously in that it has come loose from some long-term structural assumptions.

Newspapers have, to a greater or lesser degree, come to terms with the need to deliver news through the day, rather than as something you find on the doorstep or at the dairy in the morning. Stuff and the Herald website compete on timeliness in a way that would have been unthinkable a decade or two ago. It's quite common for a story to evolve over hours – with the definitive version appearing much later, in the actual paper.

In New Zealand, TV has not handled the change so well. And TVNZ really needs to: it has all the channels – the web, social media, an iPhone app, hourly TVNZ 7 news bulletins, several bulletins through the day on One – but not the organisation to deliver stories that way. Resources are still tied up in silos more than they should be.

It's still entirely possible that this will lead to broader but shallower news, and it is supposed to mean "savings" of $3 million a year. Recruiting for "multimedia skills" implies recruiting younger, which could have further implications for institutional knowledge.

But it's worth noting that Radio New Zealand news introduced desktop editing by journalists eight or so years ago, without losing its depth. Indeed, its service got better.

Anyway, the key points are:

• News and Current Affairs will be grouped into four areas – Newsgathering, Daily Programmes, Current Affairs and Operations.

• Newsgathering gets the daily stories, Daily Programmes decides how to shape them for the various programmes and platforms. Operations does logistics.

• Sunday, 20/20 and Fair Go will further share resources and plan and interact more with daily news.

• About 150 reporters, producers and camera operators will be trained in editing skills over the next six months.

• Reporters and producers will be able to edit their stories to a greater level of completion, with editors providing the final polish.

• $1.5 million will be spent on training and new equipment, such as netbooks for use in the field.

• 31 roles scrapped, including cancelling seven current vacancies, 14 new roles established.

• Staff reductions and changes in work practices to result in annual savings of between $3 million and $3.3 million.

The operation of the Daily Programmes "hub" will be the key to it, and the experience of other broadcasters, such as the BBC, suggests it's not easy to pull off. Not only will stories come in from many more places, and in varying states of completion, but they need to go out to many different places. You can't compose the same screen for a big TV as for the screen of a phone.

Anyway, I've interviewed news and current affairs manager Anthony Flannery (he's off selling the idea to staff outside Auckland, so could be in the studio with us) and that'll be half the show. I can tell you that he granted there might be too many live crosses …

The other half of the show looks at the New Zealand International Film Festival, with director Bill Gosden, and critic Dominic Corry. That'll be in the studio this evening, so do feel free to join us. As usual, arrive between 5pm and 5.30, at the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ. We'll even have dips – and John Campbell assure me they never get dips at TV3, even on Fridays.

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