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More stuff to digest about television news

Tuesday’s announcement that New Zealand will continue to have a second 6pm television news bulletin after Warner Bros Discovery [WBD] shutters its Newshub operation on July 5 is cause for cautious celebration.

Whatever one might think of our news media [based on the survey released last week regarding the New Zealand public’s falling trust in news, odds are you don’t think much of them at all], two is better than just one – if only for the purposes of comparison and competition.

However, as is always the case, the devil is in the detail, and there’s still a great deal not known about what this new linear television news bulletin will actually involve.

We know print and website news company Stuff has entered into an agreement to produce a six o’clock news bulletin for WBD – for which it will receive an annual fee, while WBD will keep any advertising revenue – that will screen on Three from Saturday, July 6 onwards, and will be an hour long on weekdays and half an hour during weekends.

Stuff will take on some new staff but probably only be a few dozen, so the majority of the 300 Newshub workers [including reporters, producers, camera operators, technicians, and admin staff] will still find themselves without a job.

Newshub’s website will also be transferred to Stuff, although beyond its archives being preserved, there aren’t “any specific plans” for this.

What we don’t know is, well, pretty much everything else – including what level of viewership the new programme will need to reach under the agreement.

While Stuff publisher Sinead Boucher has said her company intends to “innovate and not replicate the six o’clock news, building on our expertise in digital audiences and engagement and our ability to deliver live and lively news 24/7 all over Aotearoa”, that’s just noise-shaped air, not a business plan – and Stuff has only 80 days in which to come up with one, then execute it.

Given Newshub’s 6pm bulletin was reportedly still pulling in “low tens of millions” in ad revenue each year when the decision was taken to ditch it due to not being financially sustainable, Stuff will need to keep production costs well under what Newshub’s have been.

Boucher has talked confidently about Stuff’s journalists already having experience in “visual journalism”, but there’s a yawning divide between the ‘skill’ required to film something on your smartphone, and the kind of high-end video production NZ audiences have grown used to from Newshub and TVNZ.

As such, Stuff would be wise to try to make a virtue out of its relative lack of budget and lean into yesteryear’s low-tech optics of a newsreader behind a desk rather than the modern ‘picture-led’ style of news broadcasts [marketing line: ‘we value substance over glitz’].

The major hurdle that must be overcome, though, is the matter of trust. In the media trust survey released last week, Kiwis gave Newshub just 4.7 out of 10 for trustworthiness, while Stuff only rated 4.6 [TVNZ scored 4.8].

So perhaps it’d be advisable for this new bulletin to return to the traditionally humble journalistic approach of seeking to provide ‘the first draft of history’ rather than trying to be ‘on the right side’ of it.

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