TVNZ’s, “regional-focused” restructuring plan and Mark Jennings’ opinion piece on it not adding up deserve some more attention.
Jennings is right on some points – As a “cost cutting” move this saves very little considering TVNZ just spent $60mill refurbishing their Auckland Headquarters and at the quoted wage of $60,000, the network could afford to hire 16-17 new regional TVNZ staff for the price of their one CEO’s $1mill salary. So, no, it doesn’t stack up financially.
If TVNZ was truly serious about covering the regions they would invest far more than just one multitasking “Video Journalist”. They would build a studio; hire local camera, sound, editing and reporting staff – That’s a commitment to the regions.
But Jennings gets one thing very wrong in his opinion piece and it drives a chronic problem endemic to New Zealand’s broadcast media.
It’s seen viewership dropping, less advertising revenue and less reliance and relevance on traditional New Zealand media over the last few decades.
He doesn’t believe TVNZ having reporters in regional centres is a good idea because:
“Viewers in Invercargill don’t give a toss about Whanganui’s sewage problems”.
“There are simply not enough stories of national significance in Nelson or Queenstown or Tauranga to justify a full-time TV reporter in those areas.”
In other words:
“New Zealand’s regions don’t matter”
Apparently nothing newsworthy (other than the odd murder or natural disaster) exists outside of the main centres, especially Auckland where New Zealand’s main broadcast media are based.
Auckland is indeed a big city, with around 1.4 million residents a fair bit of stuff, some of it newsworthy happens there. But New Zealand’s population is nearing 4.5 million, meaning less than one third of New Zealand lives in Auckland.
Yet what do we see plastered across our news websites every day and on national television news every night despite our location?
Over recent years Auckland house prices and Auckland traffic congestion have taken a lion’s share of national news media coverage.
Ironically Aucklanders aren’t home in time to watch 6pm news items on traffic congestion because they’re still stuck in it!
Do those same Invercargill viewers Jennings refers to “give a toss” about those Auckland issues?
Is something that might be relevant to 1/3 of the country’s population “nationally significant” to the other 2/3?
Using Jennings’ theory, what could be a serious public health problem for the people of Whanganui caused by corporate shortcutting for profit or council graft – problems not just limited to the main centres and deserving of airing nationally so those responsible can be held to account and the same problems don’t happen elsewhere is shelved because “no one cares about that”.
Yet everyone from Cape Reinga to Bluff needs to hear about a breakdown on the North-western Motorway causing a 15 minute commuter delay?
There’s something very wrong with that ideology and it’s not just limited to New Zealand television.
Non-commercial Radio New Zealand, by comparison, DOES cover the entire country with stories from regional New Zealand commonplace and it does so on a far smaller (and rather criminally FROZEN) budget than it’s commercial radio compatriots.
It also soundly BEATS those same commercial networks in their almighty ratings quest.
The only gripe I would have with RNZ is while the likes of “The Panel” do at least feature opinions stretching the length and breadth of New Zealand, main centre media, PR, political and pollster voices are still a bit too commonplace and not necessarily representative of a “true” or “honest” New Zealand voice or opinion.
Aside from Radio New Zealand, the widest geographical coverage of New Zealand by network broadcasters comes from Maori TV and TVNZ’s “Te Karere” featuring areas of higher Maori population and issues – Northland, East Cape, King Country, Whanganui etc..
Maori media, at least, readily present stories of “national news significance” outside of Auckland and other main centres.
Of all broadcast media, radio has always been the most “personal”. It’s just you and your radio.
Indeed, one of the first things they teach in announcer training is that you aren’t talking to hundreds or thousands of people, but to just one person listening at home, or in their car etc.
It used to be each regional centre had their own radio station or two. Broadcasting became “Live and local, 24 hours a day” (I know – I did the midnight to dawn part of the 24 hours).
If there was a fire in Hastings, you heard about it straight away. A crash blocked a road in Napier? They gave you detour directions as it was cleared. Some minor local celebrities were created, but it also kept you close. You often met announcers in the street.
In the 90’s profits started to take over. Individual stations were bought up, joined into networks nationally simulcast from Auckland and local content was stripped back and in many cases away completely.
Ring up your “local” station today to ask about a fire in Havelock and you will be asked “Is that Havelock near Nelson, or Havelock North in Hawke’s Bay?” There’s no longer that closeness or community, because in New Zealand media “the regions don’t matter.”
Last time I checked the reach of one of NZ’s major radio networks it had 25 frequencies / “stations” across the country. Each broadcasted five to seven different shows per day with one to two announcers hosting each show.
17 of those stations had a sole local announcer, usually on a breakfast show and three stations had two local announcers – again breakfast duos.
Four stations had no local announcers at all – their “local” announcer was simulcast from a neighbouring region.
In total the network had 31 “local” announcers, given the 8 announcers who were simulcast throughout the country from the network’s main studio in Auckland are technically “local” in Auckland.
This means around 158 announcing positions across the country – once covered by local broadcasters, covering local issues – are now covered by the same 8 people in Auckland.
That hardly seems fair on local listeners, local broadcasters or local issues.
But it’s no longer good enough for these Auckland-based networks to try and dominate one media platform – they must dominate ALL platforms across the country!
We now have the same “media talent” on simulcast breakfast radio, with regular columns in newspapers and websites owned by the same networks, as well as being the headline act nightly television news and current affairs shows!
As the reach of New Zealand media has expanded the range of content, opinion and input has drastically narrowed. And it’s not just news shows.
No matter how dire, repetitive, convoluted, or just plain rubbish New Zealand’s “reality television” offerings are, the networks that screen them will still promote them and sing their praises through their print, radio and online arms.
“Hey, did you see ‘Show Z’ last night, wasn’t it great!?” they will broadcast, tweet and opine.
“Oh, look! Who just happens to be walking on to the set of “My Kitchen Garden Rebuild is New Zealand’s Top Singer” – it’s Dave and Jane from ‘Bland FM’ with the contestants’ latest challenge!”
Need a host for your new show? Why have auditions for someone new, when you can just shimmy a current staff member over from another of your network’s brands?
New Zealand’s media “talent pool” has become a puddle and it’s evaporating fast!
Can’t someone else have a turn, please?
Yes they can!
This is where the wonder of social media comes in and why our current “traditional” media networks seem so scared and threatened by it.
Because the likes of Facebook are doing the job TVNZ used to do with shows like “Top Half”, “Town and Around” and “Today Tonight”.
Ideally they should STILL be doing this today if things weren’t so Auckland-centric and fiscally focused.
Our major “State Broadcaster” is called “Television NEW ZEALAND” after all.
New Zealand’s network media gave up on two thirds of New Zealand years ago, so it’s only fair that the majority of New Zealanders switched off their televisions and radios and turned to Twitter and Facebook on their computers, Ipads and smartphones.
Social media does what it says on the packet – It’s a SOCIAL media! It has a (world-)wide broadcast range, but it can also have the most personal of touches and community spirit. It works superbly.
Ask online about that fire in Havelock and you will be told precisely where it is, when it started, how big it is and likely get pictures and video live from the scene.
Social media is everywhere and people disenchanted with a lack of local coverage will create their own groups covering the news and issues important to them in their cities and regions.
If traditional broadcast media’s income, reach and influence are hurt by that, then they have only themselves to blame.
Because regional New Zealand DOES matter. 2/3 of the country is too big to ignore.
New Zealand viewers, listeners and media consumers – regional and metropolitan alike deserve better!
But what would I know – I’m from Hawke’s Bay.
Apparently I don’t matter! 😉