Job losses 'tragic' for Kiwi journalists: commentator

A billboard outside Newshub's headquarters in Auckland showing news presenters Samantha Hayes and...
A billboard outside Newshub's headquarters in Auckland showing news presenters Samantha Hayes and Mike McRoberts. Photo: Getty Images
Today could be one of the worst days for journalism in New Zealand's history, a media commentator warns.

Newshub staff from television channel Three are due to meet at 11am to hear the outcome of Warner Bros Discovery's proposal to axe the newsroom with the possible loss of up to 300 jobs.

Spinoff founder Duncan Greive said he was struggling to think of another day where there would have been so many job losses in the country's journalism industry.

His comments come following confirmation from Television New Zealand on Tuesday that it will go ahead with axing its long-running consumer affairs programme Fair Go, along with the midday and late night news bulletins. The fate of staff at the current affairs programme Sunday will also be announced on Wednesday.

While the Newshub closure was likely to be confirmed, Greive said it was "reasonably likely" that one of its rivals, Stuff, NZME or Sky Television, would make a TV bulletin (using Newshub staff) and then sell it back to Warner Bros Discovery.

Duncan Greive. Photo: supplied
Duncan Greive. Photo: supplied
"You'd expect them all to be looking pretty hard at it, but it will come down to probably who will give the sharpest price."

He did not expect it to to resemble the current Newshub operation and it would be a vastly scaled back service.

"The current status is uneconomic for Warner Bros Discovery and for anyone to take it over they're going to have to be delivering for a tiny fragment of the current cost."

This meant there would be roles for a few presenters, journalists and technical staff.

The changes being announced would be irreversible even if the government and New Zealand on Air came up with some assistance, he said. 

"Any response will come too late for this current round of cuts which is really tragic for the journalists involved and I think that the way that journalism impacts the New Zealand public. You don't even have to necessarily consume news to be positively impacted by its presence."

The real impact would probably only become obvious after the jobs disappeared.

Regarding the cuts at TVNZ confirmed on Tuesday, he said it was to management's credit that they had listened to feedback with the Fair Go brand to be retained (and used for online stories) and some changes for the youth news channel Re:News.

With the announcement on the possible demise of the Sunday current affairs programme on Wednesday, he expected only about four jobs out of a total of the original 68 to be saved.

"The impacts will largely be the same."

Greive said the production sector has been calling for a levy for a long time to help them and would supplement NZ on Air income.

"Without some kind of change there is going to be a continued caving-in of the sector I think.

"It really is all eyes on [Broadcasting Minister] Melissa Lee and that Cabinet paper she's been referring to."

Alison Mau was a presenter on Fair Go between 2009 and 2012. Photo: RNZ
Alison Mau was a presenter on Fair Go between 2009 and 2012. Photo: RNZ

Some cheer from Fair Go decision

Former Fair Go presenter Alison Mau says she's hopeful strong consumer affairs journalism will continue under a new proposal.

The popular programme began screening on TV in 1977. 

While the show will cease to be televised next month, a new team of four journalist roles could be created to continue this type of journalism under the Fair Go brand, particularly on its digital platform.

Mau, who was a presenter on the show between 2009 and 2012, said it was not only her favourite show to work on, but it had held a place in New Zealanders' hearts for decades.

The show had been "a pioneer" in making some dry topics such as insurance fun and palatable for viewers.

While it was still unclear what TVNZ was planning, she did not expect it to be a programme that viewers could stream.

It was more likely it would be longform journalism which would still be useful in helping people with their consumer issues.

"In the end ... it's about the people who write into the show and the fact they might be able to get some meaningful help with their issues."

Mau said she had experienced five redundancies herself and sent her aroha to all those at TVNZ and Newshub who were losing their jobs.

"It's a really upsetting time. There are a lot of people who are going to have their hopes dashed today unfortunately and I would just encourage them to not lose hope and perhaps to broaden their thinking on what they might do next."