The media business survived Round One of Covid in 2020, wrestled its way past Round Two in 2021 and, like the rest of the country, now faces Round Three in 2022.
Partly supported last year by government initiatives to bring forward advertising, suspend technology levies on broadcasters and encourage departmental subscriptions to news services, but mainly benefiting from New Zealand’s economic rebound, the media started 2021 in a relatively positive condition.
Public Interest Journalism Fund
This year, another taxpayer-funded initiative, the Public Interest Journalism Fund, has started supporting editorial projects, journalism training and diversity – and lately some added jobs in newsrooms to cover the regions, Maori issues and local democracy.
Some say that the media has been bought and is a willing mouthpiece for the current government. One social media commenter labelled journalists “The team of $50m,’ using a number that combines old and new public funding and some which might not even eventuate over the coming years.
The criticism that the ’media is in the government’s pocket’ is fanciful, given the temperament and record of journalists over many years reporting (under their own funding and via NZ On Air funded projects and programmes) in exacting and unflattering ways on incumbent administrations.
While public support is helping, the private media sector is also reshaping and regathering itself with (a) the imminent launch of Today FM talk radio by MediaWorks (b) the strong commercial comeback of New Zealand Herald and Newstalk ZB owner NZME, ending 2021 with a high share price, almost no debt, a purchase of the BusinessDesk news service on the cards and Newstalk ZB all-conquering (c) Sky TV also a 2021 success story, cutting costs and boosting its technology and services to be one of the best-performing stocks on the NZX.
That is the business end of things.
Journalistically, the nation’s combined newsrooms have covered the Delta outbreak and lockdowns, the vaccination programme, economic supports, delays, communications failures and business concerns strongly – all the while under attack by fringe anti-vax, anti-everything groups blaming the media for their perceived lack of freedoms.
Now onto the bouquets.
Bouquets to high performers
MediaRoom’s list of people who have stood out this year by either breaking stories, keeping the authorities honest, pushing back against misinformation, keeping media operations viable and sustainable, reviving mastheads and businesses and keeping the public informed are, in no particular order (Newsroom staff excluded):
Indira Stewart – graduated from the early morning show on RNZ to be Breakfast newsreader on 1 News with obvious instinct, elan and high competence, her year and the political year marked by a patient, exacting and memorable one-on-one interview with then-National Leader Judith Collins. In the face of bluster and belligerence, she stood her ground, allowing Collins to let her own mask drop.
Steve Braunias – for his peerless news features, columns and observational masterclasses from some of the biggest trials in the nation’s courts, published in the New Zealand Herald (and general genius as Editor of ReadingRoom on this site). The Man with the Golden Words is in a long career sweet spot, to the benefit of his readers everywhere.
Sarah Cowley Ross – an Olympic heptathlete for New Zealand, she was a star presence on TVNZ in its coverage from Tokyo. Widely knowledgeable, relatable and a natural down the camera, Cowley Ross is also a highly accomplished chronicler for LockerRoom of the personalities and issues for women in sport.
Brian Gaynor – the noted investment guru was the leading example of private sector support for the news media, stepping in in 2020 to fund and revitalise the struggling specialist news wire BusinessDesk, staffing it up and developing it, both as Board Chair and as a Columnist, to a critical mass that saw it sold to Herald-Publisher NZME for between $3.5m and $5m.
Laura Tupou – the former RNZ and Newshub 6 pm journalist stepped up to present TV3’s primetime The Project show when its star Kanoa Lloyd went on maternity leave and became the best new talent on that channel and our screens in 2021. Tupou will go on to read the weekend 6 pm news on TV3 but her star-turn replacing Lloyd will live in the memory.
Rachel Morris – the Editor from US site HuffPost Highline returned during the pandemic to bring North & South Magazine out of hibernation from its closure by the departing Bauer company – planning and driving the first re-launch issue while still in MIQ – and has (re) created a smart and sharply edited current affairs magazine that New Zealand needs. Good topics, very good writing and sweetly packaged.
Mike Hosking – undeniable success, light years ahead of his music station breakfast competitors and now comfortably ahead of RNZ’s powerhouse Morning Report news show. Hosking hit heights in market share that were scarcely believable in the past. But some of his rat-a-tat reckons on Covid, the border and other aspects of the pandemic management have been rash or premature, and possibly calamitous, had they been accepted. Hosking faces a new talk radio challenger with the MediaWorks’ launch of Today FM and its appointment of Tova O’Brien as the anti-Hosking.
Sophie Moloney – The Sky TV Chief Executive has had a year of action, consolidating the company’s shares to help revive its penny dreadful stock market price, cutting costs on programming rights, selling the Sky HQ property in Mt Wellington for a handsome $56m, announcing a new set-top box technology and on-demand response, and seeing Sky end the year as (one of) the NZX’s most improved shares. Her executive team has been rejuvenated and the business looks to have its mojo back after years of drift.
Tony Wall – Stuff’s investigative reporter based in the Bay of Plenty consistently turns out powerful news features, with a standout in 2021 being his visit to Murupara in the Eastern Bay to find the local GP who was not advocating Covid-19 vaccinations, in a town with poor vax rates. Wall’s feature heard all sides, from the long-time town doctor, his supporters, iwi, his critics and health officials and conveyed the tension and predicament of one community upended by the pandemic.
Special mention also to Newsroom’s Marc Daalder, whose body of work on Covid-19 and climate change was exemplary, to our Melanie Reid for another video investigation into maltreatment of young people in an Oranga Tamariki residence, to Guyon Espiner for repeat investigations for Morning Report and RNZ that made a difference, for the Herald’s Matt Nippert for big-brain, exhaustive journalistic projects to piece together the full picture of our vaccine and Covid response, and for Moana Maniapoto for the innovative, and uniformly fascinating Monday current affairs programme Te Ao with Moana she hosts on Maori TV.
MediaRoom Person of the Year
But now, for the MediaRoom Media Person of the Year:
Patrick Gower – the unlikely but undeniable TV news star, making TV3’s best rating programmes, pioneering a new form of a personality-driven documentary on topics that resonate with the country, breaking stories on the 6 pm news and fronting that Vaxathon on the Super Saturday national vaccination drive. Someone had to do it but probably no one could have, in the way Gower managed.
Gower is not yet in the Jack Reacher mould of ‘men want to be him, women want to be with him,’ but his appeal to young and old, male and female is something else. This year he was everywhere. From his Louis Theroux-style personalised documentaries – on P and Hate – to Paddy posting a TikTok of himself delighting students by drinking from a quart bottle on Crate Day, or him being the person you call when you need an MC for the Parliamentary Press Gallery’s 150th-anniversary gala dinner in front of six Prime Ministers, mandarins, diplomats and luminaries from generations of political reporting.
But the place he can come back to, with emphatic impact, is the F***ing News, as he labelled it. His December scoop using a hidden camera and an undercover reporter to expose the anti-vax activities of a Kaiapoi doctor issuing false vaccine exemptions was classic Gower (assisted by those who help set up these stories). The doctor’s activities were stopped immediately. Multiple inquiries followed, professional or possibly criminal sanctions could follow.
All in a year’s work for Paddy.
Previous Winners of MediaRoom’s Media Person of the Year:
2020: The reporters at the 1 pm briefing
2019: Jane Wrightson
2018: Kathryn Ryan
2017: Guyon Espiner
Tim Murphy is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of Newsroom based in Auckland. The above story has been published under a Special Arrangement.