Opinion: Why the MediaWorks crisis is bad news for journalism

Samantha Hayes and Mike McRoberts.
Samantha Hayes and Mike McRoberts. Photo credit: Newshub.

Alex Braae writes for the Spinoff

OPINION: News broke this morning that MediaWorks is seeking to sell off, and even contemplating closing, its TV division. What might that mean for journalism?

For journalism in New Zealand, the loss of Three’s TV division is a devastating blow. It is not yet known whether any of the news properties will be continuing.

People often talk about the loss of news properties in terms of loss of competition. That’s probably a bit of a red herring – the far more damaging effect if the news division is lost will be simply that it removes a lot of pairs of eyes keeping watch on politicians and industries, with nobody to replace them.

There have been a handful of people cheering this news. They don’t like Mark Richardson and Duncan Garner, and besides, hasn't Three been shit ever since Campbell Live got cancelled?

Wrong, dickheads. Over the last five years the company has routinely broken major stories, or set the agenda on issues that needed to be brought to life. There are legitimate criticisms to be made about cutbacks and programming decisions. But to prove the point that their work has mattered, here is just a small selection of some of their recent hits, as an illustration of what could be lost.

The Nation's investigation into the 'hidden homeless' of Bruce Pullman Park

It wasn’t the first thing published on the matter, but the explosive telling of this story put people sleeping in cars firmly on the political agenda. It's not an exaggeration to say that piece was a turning point in the way welfare and homelessness is discussed in New Zealand. Newshub Nation remains a must-watch for those who follow politics closely.

The Hui humanising a woman on drugs who had gone viral

The Spinoff editor Duncan Greive wrote about this at the time, saying The Hui gave Ngaetu Grover a name, and a life story. It brought incredibly necessary context and humanity to a story that had previously been nothing more than a bit of shock footage. The Hui also played a hugely important role in bringing the need for an inquiry into abuse in state care to light.

Michael Morrah's investigations into the fishing industry

Newshub’s investigations reporter Michael Morrah is one of those journalists who knows their beat thoroughly, and have both the knowledge and contacts to break stories that matter regularly. Among those beats is the fishing industry, which Morrah has repeatedly held to account – including for example this report in 2016 about widespread illegal fish dumping. He has never let up on it since. Michael Morrah has also recently brought a web of alleged sexual misconduct crashing down at the Civil Aviation Authority.

Tova O’Brien's ruthless and relentless pursuit of scandals

Whether you like these sorts of stories or not, there are few reporters with better instincts for how to make a political scandal count. She broke the news of Simon Bridges' expenses being leaked, which became among the most pivotal political stories of the year. But included in that wider saga were a few really important stories about specific details, such as this one about Simon Bridges putting pressure on the country's top police officer to reveal who the leaker was. As well as that, it was only yesterday that she broke a big story about MP Clayton Mitchell’s alleged behaviour in a Tauranga pub.

Fiona Connor's deep dive into the late Johnny Danger’s beer company

It might seem strange to include a story about a social media star in this list. But fundamentally, this was a business story, about a family left carrying the can following an untimely death, and a business partner accused of conning them into that position.

Mitch McCann's work on Kiwifruit orchard safety

This one was about a toxic spray being used on orchards, and McCann's stories revealed concerns that the Hi-Cane spray was harming the health of locals. It led to the chemical being put under review by MPI.

Jenna Lynch's work on KiwiBuild

There were many stories in this portfolio, but one that outlined how quickly ambitions around the KiwiBuild programme were collapsing was the revelation that penalties against house flipping had been quietly and significantly relaxed.

Patrick Gower's story on the man denied a colonoscopy who got terminal cancer

There are many potential pieces by Gower that could go in here, but the story of Paul Cosgrove was recent, damning and heartbreaking. He never got the opportunity to have a colonoscopy, because services in Southland were inadequate. He wanted one for a year and never got it, now he's dying. It was a human face on the postcode lottery of cancer treatment.

Newshub’s coverage of breaking stories

They were outstanding during the Christchurch earthquakes. And they were outstanding again during the Christchurch mosque attacks on March 15. Reporter Thomas Mead in particular showed it was possible to both deliver the news, and be compassionate towards those caught up in it.

And finally, just doing the f***ing news

People don’t understand how difficult it is just to do the basics of news – to fill an hour in the evening with worthwhile stories, or get the right voices on morning shows to tell stories. It's expensive. It takes an extraordinary amount of commitment and work. And in many cases, the audience will only notice the mistakes, rather than what gets done right. We don't yet know how the announcement will change, diminish or destroy Mediaworks' news division. But it's an undoubtedly bad sign, and the country will be poorer for it.

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