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OPINION: News of John Campbell’s departure from RNZ is a significant loss for the public broadcaster, particularly as it looks toward scaling up its video ambitions, Damien Venuto writes.
The thought of RNZ being broadcast on a bespoke ad-free television channel as envisioned by the Labour Party’s plans for RNZ Plus always seemed far-fetched, but the heavyweight talent of Campbell gave it a sniff of credibility.
Campbell working alongside his longtime collaborator Carol Hirschfeld would’ve given those prone to nostalgia flashbacks to Campbell Live’s heyday. Without them, there seems little reason for RNZ to undertake an expensive and difficult journey into territory that isn’t exactly its comfort zone.
The last thing the New Zealand media forest needs is another tree that no one sees or hears falling over.
There is, of course, the potential for RNZ to replace Campbell with someone equally talented. But who would that be?
In the limited talent pool of truly exceptional broadcasters, there are few that compare to Campbell - and it’s questionable whether RNZ will be able to pry any out of the clutches of one of the commercial networks.
An internal staff email following the Campbell announcement suggests RNZ will first look within for a replacement, with chief executive Paul Thompson calling on staff to drop him a line if they’re interested in applying for the presenter role or if they’d like to suggest someone who would be good for the job.
Within RNZ, Morning Report broadcasters Susie Ferguson and Guyon Espiner certainly have the nous to front a TV show, but this could leave the company stretched during the morning slot. Then again, they wouldn’t be the first broadcasters to do both radio and television during the same day.
At this stage, it’s still unclear whether RNZ will follow through and launch RNZ Plus, but video is increasingly important to the broadcaster and it goes without saying that Campbell would’ve played an integral part in bringing some of its visual content to life - whether it was documentaries, special investigations or high-profile interviews.
There’s no doubt that Checkpoint, hosted by Campbell, will live on. It’s been on air for over 50 years, and it continues to attract a significant daily audience. It’s only a question of who’ll be brave to sit in the grooves left in Campbell’s seat.
From Campbell’s perspective, it seems a good move. The high production values of an organisation driven by visual form seem better suited to the animated broadcaster with a love of superlatives.
During his tenure at RNZ, he gave the afternoon show everything he could and offered an animated analysis of major news of the day.
But watching the video version of Campbell, he looked a little trapped in the radio-driven format. At times, it also seemed a throwback to the first days of TV when producers, struggling to adapt to the new platform, simply read radio shows on air.
Perhaps, with the injection of new funding, RNZ will have the opportunity to improve this and make the show more visually appealing. But Campbell will see no part in this.
Instead, he will be embracing what TVNZ calls a “roving brief,” providing content across a number of current affairs shows.
The sentiment on this opportunity is perhaps best summed up in his own words: “After 20 years of sitting in a studio five nights a week, I’m really excited by the prospect of spending more time in the field.”
And while Campbell hunts the next big story, RNZ will be looking for the next marvellous presenter to replace him.