Senior reporters to make proposal to save Newshub

Investigations reporter Michael Morrah spoke at Newshub’s Auckland newsroom in Eden Terrace after...
Investigations reporter Michael Morrah spoke at Newshub’s Auckland newsroom in Eden Terrace after the announcement the news outlet would be shut down. Photo: NZ Herald
A group of senior Newshub journalists will be meeting next week to discuss a proposal to present to Warner Bros. Discovery in an effort save their news operation in some form.

Speaking with the Herald today, investigations reporter Michael Morrah said the announcement made yesterday by international owners Warner Bros. Discovery to completely close Newshub’s operations by the end of June was a "bombshell".

"When the email came out that certainly caused quite a lot of alarm and confusion within the newsroom and people didn’t really know what it meant," Morrah said, referring to the email calling for an all-hands meeting at 11am yesterday with Warner Bros. Discovery Asia-Pacific president James Gibbons and Newshub boss Glen Kyne.

"I thought that it would mean the demise of possibly a couple of shows or some cutback somewhere. I never envisaged that they would propose cancelling the entire news operation, including digital platforms. We thought there’d be some trimming, not kind of a wholesale axe to the entire operation."

Morrah said staff were crying, stressed and shocked by the news.

Up to 350 people work at Warner Bros. Discovery in New Zealand, with about 200 understood to be devoted to news, in editorial, commercial and backroom roles.

Morrah said there is also no confidence the media company - which made a $34.8 million loss in NZ for the 2022 financial year - will keep Newshub running until the final date of June 30.

"There’s a possibility it could be brought forward. We’ve been told that as well. So at this stage, we’re unclear on that."

He said staff today were contemplating what redundancy packages are going to look like, "which we were told at the meeting would be quite generous".

Despite the prospect of fellow staff now starting to look for new roles before June 30, Morrah said: "I’ll stay until the lights go out.

"I’ll keep reporting until we can’t report anymore. And I suspect that most of my colleagues will be doing the same - we’re a dedicated team."

But Morrah, a two-time Reporter of the Year at the NZ Television Awards, said a group of senior journalists will have a hui next week to hash out a proposal in a bid to save the news operation in some reduced form.

Paddy Gower (left), Karen Rutherford and Charlotte Foster leaving the Newshub offices yesterday....
Paddy Gower (left), Karen Rutherford and Charlotte Foster leaving the Newshub offices yesterday. Photo: NZ Herald
Morrah said Warner Bros. Discovery gave Newshub journalists a two-week window of consultation to discuss and make proposals in response to the planned closure. They were told this consultation period could be extended if need be.

"Certainly as a group [of] our 6pm reporters, we want to come together and try to come up with some sort of plan [to present to] management [and] see if they’re going to listen to that, give us serious consideration," he said.

"No decisions have been made about what that might look like or what might be stripped back.

"And I don’t wish to speculate on that until I’ve discussed with my colleagues because we haven’t had the chance to even consider that, really, because we’re all still busy putting out the news."

Morrah added: "We’ve got to give it a crack, right? It might not make a difference. We don’t know, but we have to put something forward in the event that we could save part of the newsroom, keep some people employed. That’s the aim of the game."

Morrah said a basic plan would be to keep a group of reporters and the news operation intact.

"I think losing an entire newsroom is incredibly damaging, not just for myself and my colleagues, but for society at large, the fabric of New Zealand - that’s bad for democracy," he said, echoing the sentiments of several senior politicians yesterday, including Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Labour leader Chris Hipkins.

"People need a range of information and views, and to take away one of the 6pm evening bulletins is massive and has huge ramifications."

Morrah was also critical of a lack of Government assistance for the station as it battled a diminishing television advertising market and global economic downturn off the back of Covid-19.

Morrah said Newshub boss Glen Kyne had met with Broadcasting Minister Melissa Lee, as well as ministers in the previous Government, and previously asked for relief from transmission fees state-owned enterprise Kordia charges.

"Sure, ministers listened. Did they act? No, no, they [didn’t]. I think that, in part, is contributed to our demise," he said.

"I think what we lack in New Zealand - for example, there’s been laws introduced in Canada and Australia [for] streaming services [to] contribute to local production. The likes of Netflix and YouTube, and that sort of thing."

Morrah said after the initial shock of the announcement, he is also gradually turning his mind to the investigative stories he wants to prioritise while there is still a platform to air them.

"Probably after this weekend, [I’ll] put a ring around [certain stories] and go, ‘Right, what are my priorities? What do I need to get done and how am I gonna do it?’"

Staff at one of NZ's biggest media companies were called to a meeting yesterday to inform them of...
Staff at one of NZ's biggest media companies were called to a meeting yesterday to inform them of the likely closure. Photo: NZ Herald
The Newshub journalist of nearly two decades said he held no resentment towards US media company Discovery for buying the Kiwi news operation in 2020, which then merged with Warner Bros. in 2022, which is now worth more than $21 billion.

"You’ve got to remember that we got purchased by Discovery and then it sort of became Warner Bros. Discovery, and it was a pretty exciting time for everyone.

"Finally, we were owned by a media giant whose sole purpose was creating content and making television. The head of Asia-Pacific flew out here a couple of years ago and did a speech about how excited they were to have us as a brand.

"And there was a lot of excitement, and unfortunately, despite efforts, that hasn’t panned out and they’ve, you know, proposed a pull of the plug, which is distressing, traumatic, hugely upsetting."

That same Warner Bros. Discovery Asia-Pacific president, James Gibbons, also flew from Singapore to deliver yesterday’s shut-down announcement in person at Newshub’s Auckland newsroom.

But Morrah said a day after the announcement, "people are still sort of digesting the news … and it’s becoming more of a reality". He said there has been an outpouring of support from his contacts, colleagues across the industry and Government ministers.

The job of producing the Newshub’s leading 6pm bulletin yesterday was particularly challenging and disorientating for Morrah.

"It’s heartbreaking, and it was really tough yesterday embracing my colleagues coming out of the meeting and then reporting on our potential demise; embracing other friends from TV, ones who were there to report on the news as they had every right to do.

"It was a very strange day."

For now, Morrah said focusing on journalism is consoling and a welcome distraction. And he holds some hope it won’t all end in June.

"It’s just mind-blowing to fathom the idea that the news operation at Three is being wound down.

"I’ve been here for 18 years, and over that time, as you appreciate, you build friendships and connections. As a journalist you build contacts, and I love my job. I love the people at TV Three, and we are a team."