Hard News by Russell Brown


A cog in the Mediaworks machine

It's almost exactly three months since the New Zealand Herald's 'Diary' columnist Rachel Glucina announced in a tweet that she had been "headhunted" by Mediaworks "for a joint venture partnership to create, run and co-own a new digital entertainment platform."

Many of her former Herald colleagues believed she had, at best, jumped before she'd been pushed, and that the final straw had been not her unethical treatment of waitress Amanda Bailey but her ludicrous "conifers" column. The belief was that she was due to be dispensed with in a reshuffle after the departure of editor-in-chief Tim Murphy.

Whatever the case, the news was not welcome at all amongst Mediaworks journalists. As Simon Day describes it in the Sunday Star Times today:

Morale in the newsroom was already low. It was less than a month since John Campbell had resigned. The hiring of Glucina, the infamous gossip columnist who had attacked so many of TV3's presenters and journalists during her time at the New Zealand Herald, was the tipping point for an anxious and now enraged newsroom.

The staff were mutinous. Their protests forced head of news Mark Jennings to call an emergency newsroom meeting. In a hostile session TV3's journalists demanded to know how the appointment could have happened. Jennings promised Glucina would never set foot in the newsroom.

Some time after that, Mediaworks journalists received a group email announcing that:

Rachel Glucina is going to be leading a small but perfectly formed team to dominate entertainment news in New Zealand and beyond. This is your opportunity to be there from the beginning and help shape our digital entertainment news into the phenomenon it will undoubtedly become.

We need your energy, your drive and your skills to deliver on some bold plans.

Being sought were a news editor responsible for ensuring that "news stories have an emphasis on quality, accuracy, accessibility, best Web practices, and search engine optimisation (SEO)"; an online editor ("You will write, file, edit and promote a range of digital content on the platforms, including website, tablet, mobile app, social media and others, that will build the online presence for this major technology site"); and a social media editor "experienced in creating, curating and promoting compelling creative social content, generating web traffic, and expanding brand visibility and conversation."

The site, Scout, launches tomorrow (or today, if you're reading this on Monday), with Francis Cook, a former gallery reporter with Scoop, signed on as news editor and Patrick Gower and Duncan Garner as contributors. What Glucina will do day-to-day isn't clear.

"She is very good at her job, forging sources prepared to leak her information. People have proven keen to give her inside access to their events, cameras, and lives," Day writes, but I'm honestly not sure if that's true.

Glucina's Diary columns since 2012 read increasingly like the work of someone no one would talk to any more. She had few scoops and wrote terribly, especially when she attempted humour. This was The Diary's "lead" on May 27:

During a radio interview with Mike Hosking yesterday to promote his upcoming New Zealand Trew World Order tour in October, British comedian Russell Brand had a momentary brain fade, believing he was talking to a journalist in Australia.

"What I might do is bring my cat Morrissey to Australia with me. Oh wait, this is New Zealand, right?" Brand said.

"Conifers", on May 25, led with a picture of a British DJ who looked somewhat like John Key that people had been sharing on Twitter, then a "second viral pic": an innocuous poolside selfie by John Key with his son Max, lifted from Max's Instagram account. Hilariously, the Herald's editors later deleted this deathless paragraph from the original column:

Phallic-shaped conifers shoot up to the sky. Fairy lights hang delicately from the spouting of the pool house. And the toned torsos of the shirtless studs have prompted winks and nods around the country.

This stayed in:

Mike Hosking took to the airwaves this morning to quiz if he was under the influence. The 53-year-old, that is.

"No I was stone cold sober," said the self-portraitist.

Key the Elder was not channelling his Russian counterpart Putin, who is no stranger to topless imagery. There's Putin topless riding a horse, fishing, hunting. Basically, any excuse to go shirtless.

Her final effort, on the day she announced her departure, was a report lifted from the Hollywood news site Deadline, that Martin Henderson was joining the cast of Grey's Anatomy. The Herald website covered the same news in a brief un-bylined news story, quoting the same website, on the same day.

Where she did seem to have a relationship was with the new Mediaworks leadership, with whom she clearly shared a low opinion of John Campbell. Between March and May, she had her byline on no fewer than eight Campbell pieces, including two in which she blamed Campbell (and his refusal to have a sidekick) for female journalists leaving TV3, and one in which she accused him of acting "like an insolent child":

Campbell, a former share trader, was little amused at comments made by John Key, a former broker, who declared last week he has little sympathy for a programme on a private station that needs to net commercial returns for shareholders.

Key branded it an "entertainment" show which got Campbell's Y-fronts in a knot.

Campbell retaliated on air like an insolent child - he played Robbie Williams' Let Me Entertain You in the opening credits of his show, and signed off: "I hope we entertained you".

Let's hope the Campbell Live fracas has not turned into an ego platform for a man who couldn't see the writing on the wall early enough.

Now that she's officially on Team Christie, Glucina will presumably have to leave off the simpering over Hosking. So what will Scout actually do?

The promo video promises "breaking entertainment and celebrity news", meaning it will – as the Stuff and the Herald websites do constantly – repackage foreign entertainment news, for which there is a solid public appetite. There will be the usual pillaging of the social media production of local sportspeople and their significant others.  

We'll hear from the eastern suburbs/Auckland National Party social axis: Max Key and his shiny friends and the various functions to which Julie Christie accompanies a Minister of the Crown. Glucina also understands the mediated and managed world of the local "event" scene, which is mostly about people claiming their celebrity by going to achingly dull product launches for the free drinks. She showed a notable work ethic in trudging along to those when she wrote Spy, but may now delegate that task to Scout's unpaid interns (yes, really).

Scout may, as the story implies, get some political gossip from Gower, but I think TV3's political editor would need to be very careful about that. They're citing TMZ as an influence, so they may be in the market for paparazzi. But I can't see them having the bank to compete with the women's mags there. Maybe they'll move into some of the scuttlebutt space surrendered by a somewhat chastened Cameron Slater, but in more of a "Guess Who Don't Sue" vein.

But the more I look at it, the more I see Scout as a cog in the Mediaworks machine; recursively making media about Mediaworks assets. As Day reports: "Bachelor star Art Green has signed on to do a series, and Bella Henry (Paul Henry's daughter) will host a show about Tinder dating called Bella Finds a Fella." Its output will be fed into Mediaworks news properties and breakfast radio shows and it'll get the inside running on whatever Mediaworks Nine Live is touring. That's essentially the model at Mediaworks now.

As a joint venture between Mediaworks and Glucina, Scout will presumably be outside the bailiwick of news chief Mark Jennings, which possibly comes as a relief to Jennings and his journalists. It may come in under Julie Christie's self-appointed role as acting manager of TV and video strategy, which you'd think would loosen its ethical boundaries somewhat.

But Day's otherwise very good story leaves hanging one tidbit any gossip site would surely seize on. How does a 42 year-old woman who's had a part-time job at a newspaper and a PR company with no clients afford lately to buy a "big" house in Ponsonby and invest in a new media joint venture?

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