Opinion: Newshub's future is bright after Discovery Inc bought MediaWorks' TV arm

  • Opinion
  • 08/09/2020
Opinion: Newshub's future is bright after Discovery Inc bought MediaWorks' TV arm
Photo credit: Newshub.

By Sarah Bristow

OPINION: It's been a helluva time. Almost a year of ambiguity, uncertainty and instability. Nothing new for a media company. It's an industry that's long been beset by challenges around cost, resourcing, ratings and an audience constantly looking elsewhere.  

It takes a certain kind of person to hang in there. You need resilience, an unwavering belief in the job you're doing and pure passion for your vocation.

The Newshub newsroom has that in spades.

When Three - and Newshub along with it - was put on the market in October last year and just a week later, our News Director Hal Crawford announced his departure, the jitters in the office were palpable and justified.

Commentators said Three couldn't or wouldn't be sold, especially given the enormous challenges facing free to air broadcasters.

Our competitors sniffed opportunity and came hunting for our journalists. We were down, but we were not yet out.

I urged our team to hang in there. "The value of this business is us. We are the asset and we will be a much more compelling proposition for a potential buyer, if we all remain in the life raft," I told them.

With the sale hanging over our newsroom and the worry of how long we'd be able to pay our rent and mortgages, we covered extraordinary stories.  

The Whakaari / White Island eruption saw Newshub's journalists spring into action, working around the clock to cover a tragedy with global reach.

The Australian bushfires took off over summer, and our budget took a hammering.

Early in the year, at editorial meetings we discussed a coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

It seemed so far away back then both in terms of geography and relevance.

Then it spread - and eventually showed up at our doorstep.

The magnitude of this event was - and I'll use the adjective so many have lent on - unprecedented.

And it required our newsroom to work harder than ever before.  

Breaking news specials, hours of rolling coverage, our newsroom split in two, our radio and digital journalists working from home, health and safety rules changed the game, staying on air became the mission.

Revenue diminished. 

We accepted a voluntary pay cut.

The worry about paying our rent and mortgages became more acute.

The worries about our health and that of our families trumped it.

"The sale is progressing" was the only reassurance to give. 

While our competitors canned their late news bulletin or dropped early morning radio news shows, Newshub kept every bulletin and news programme on air.

In fact, we added to our news and current affairs portfolio.

We saw an opportunity to launch a new show and reflect the nation's desire to make sense of COVID-19 and what it might mean for the future of New Zealand.

We launched in lockdown, preparing all of the necessary graphics and elements for the show in a week.

It was work that normally takes months.

The stress piled on, like it did for everyone. 

We moved down the alert levels as the pre-election intensity ramped up.

Planning, logistics, budgets, pressure.

The election campaign launched and the second wave hit.

Breaking news specials, hours of rolling coverage, our newsroom split in two - you get the picture.  

We wondered how long lockdown would last this time and what further impact it would have on revenue.

"The sale is progressing."

The election date moved and the planning, logistics and budgets needed major adjustment.

The Christchurch terrorist was sentenced - a story that required sensitivity and needed to be treated with the utmost care.

Throughout this time our newsroom has thrived.

Our reporting has been some of the best in the country.

We've broken stories, we've asked questions, we've acted as a voice for the public, we've held officials to account - on unnecessary mountain bike rides, around border testing, the supply of PPE, failings at quarantine and isolation facilities.

Almost a year of ambiguity, uncertainty and instability and rather than lose valued staff, we've grown our pool of talent.

We are a brilliant newsroom, filled with exceptional journalists - and so many other talented and dedicated team players who allow them to fulfill their potential.

Yesterday, the sale progressed.

And the future is bright for a newsroom full of people who collectively remained in the life raft, trusting in our value, our abilities and that someone would see our worth.

Those of us leading the TV business had our first post-sale chat with Discovery.

"Think big", Discovery urged us.

We sure will. We are capable of that. And of much more.

Sarah Bristow is Newshub's Director of News.