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Southland District Council Mayor Gary Tong emailed TV3 last week over concerns a proposal it put forward could put southern reporters on the chopping block.
“The mayors … were surprised to hear of a proposal to remove your team from Dunedin. Should coverage come out of Christchurch then television news would be delayed or forgotten,” the letter, addressed to Newshub director of news Sarah Bristow, said.
While the future of Dunedin’s sole Newshub reporter Dave Goosselink and camera operator Grant Findlay was still up in the air, there was speculation over what the proposal could mean for coverage in the deep south.
“We wish to communicate to those charged with making such an important decision that, on behalf of our communities, we oppose the change suggested in the proposal,” Tong said in the email.
The proposal from Discovery, Newshub's new owner, follows the axing of 130 jobs in May last year when the news service was owned by MediaWorks.
Talking to the Otago Daily Times on Tuesday, Tong said the multiple stabbing incident at Dunedin Countdown yesterday proved the importance of having reporters down south.
“I understand a couple of media outlets were waiting for staff to get down from Christchurch,” he said.
“It just goes to show we need people on the ground down here to capture the news and get it out to the people.”
The letter, which included the support of mayors in Central Otago, Clutha, Dunedin, Gore, Invercargill, Queenstown and Southland, had not received a response.
But writing it had given Tong a chance to reflect on how much journalism had changed since his days as an officer in small town Tūātapere.
Back in those days, he was getting a phone call from the media every night to check in on what had happened.
“The media can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Well, the majority of the time they’re our communities' best friend.”
He said misinformation spreading through social media was rife in communities, and was appalled at some of the things he’d read about council and their decision-making.
If journalism numbers continued to dwindle, he was worried misinformation would only get worse.
“There’s unfortunately some horrible people in our communities. They can hide behind a nom de plume and give people the absolute razz.
“If I went out and made comments like some of the ones I see, there’d be people jumping up and down. I can tell you I’ve gotten close a few times.”
A spokeswoman for Discovery said "people are our priority as we undergo this period of change."
They said the organisation was "working to determine the structure, skills and capabilities needed to achieve our goals, as we integrate the Three and Top TV businesses into Discovery and create one organisation across Australia and New Zealand".
"Our people are our priority as we undergo this period of change."