The late late news – Goodbye TV Journalism

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Mike McRoberts and Duncan Grieve have the same soporific monotone – stripped of emotion, no sense of either urgency or significance. Are they happy, sad, upset, concerned…? Who would know – there is no way of telling, certainly not on audio. They are both grey men – hair, face, being – a pallet of grey scale. I noticed this yesterday when McRoberts was discussing the pending euthanasia of Newshub on RNZ’s Saturday morning show.

Was he happy or sad? Hard to say – he was very grey. Mike McRobot. A gigantic redundancy payment subdued any visceral reaction – what else could it be? The Stuff crew coming in to do a bulletin under contract at TV3 are just scabs helping with the execution, but McRoberts was ethereal – shit happens and then you get a pay out and shimmy into a cuddly (bullshit by his own account) job apparently, so no hard feelings for the Americans who are going to celebrate Newshub’s destruction from their headquarters in New York City on American Independence Day. Cunts.

McRoberts recounted his war correspondence, briefly. The chief pre-requisite for that job was perhaps an emotionally stripped human able to deal with the realities of death more than say, knowing Arabic. He was a good war correspondent and could hustle in a disaster – I wrote a column once on his cynical actions: barging his way ahead of everyone else with his chosen victim so he could get them treated (ahead of everyone else) for his report – a total pro. Best performance by a Maori in a white saviour role goes to… Eat your heart out Paddy Gower. Get these other patients out of my way: this is the fucking news!

What emotional attachment can one have to someone so robotic, so devoid of personality? Mark Jennings, as a television Geppetto, could not have created a more wooden front man than McRoberts. The veneration comes not from the massive PR power of billboards and womens’ magazines but really from the ratings attainable at 6pm more than any other factor, surely. It is eyeballs viewing the oligopolistic television system to which the adulation must be attributed. The network stars, those over-paid, mediocre meat sacks, are going the way of the Huia – rapidly. John Hawkesby’s $6 million payout of six days on air with Judy Bailey wouldn’t pay out sixpence nowadays.

Grieve, with a cadence so unwavering it could be an AI rendition of motoring directions, interviewed 23 year-old media tyro William Terite on his podcast recently. Terite fawned over Newshub – McRoberts and co. were legends, childhood heroes. His attitude to the demise – nuking – of Newshub was blunted perhaps by his new gig as Pacific Media Network – he wished the Stuff scabs well without dwelling on the radioactive wasteland thus created. For someone so obsessed with the news (waxing nostalgic at events entirely within this century was odd to listen to) it was surprising to detect no flicker of anger in his account. Maybe youth simply have a positive outlook, you know, like the cultural revolution, year zero etc.

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Watching the final episodes of the late evening news of both TV One and TV3 was unexpectedly emotional. I saw them on Youtube. As I have freely admitted in previous columns I’m part of the problem: I don’t have a TV set, I haven’t watched TV regularly for more than ten years. They are ending because we don’t watch them – it has nothing at all to do with news resources or the quality of production. It’s not their fault – it’s our fault, and I can’t help but feel apologetic at the loss I’m partly responsible for.

Encapsulating 34 years of Nightline on TV3 was a hard watch. A news show with two women was itself something of a novelty in 1990. What Terite won’t understand having grown up with it is what a watershed moment TV3 was. It was more Aotearoa than New Zealand. It was iconoclastic. Terite didn’t mention TV One news at all – a fact that speaks to a generational shift and attributable to the stultified staff at the state broadcaster and the organic and native TV3.

Outwardly conventional with the elder statesman of newsreaders, Philip “the eyebrows” Sherry, anchoring the main evening news bulletin, TV3 made a late night manic Mr Hyde to balance that Dr Jekyll: Nightline. TVNZ copied it, badly, for those 34 years. And then TVNZ pulled the plug this year as soon as TV3 announced its fate.

For TVNZ their late evening news could draw upon different parentages. The iteration most familiar with Boomers and Gen X would have been “Eyewitness News” – a 9:30pm bulletin that often featured interviews and live interviews. This was a news programme that made news as often as it reported it. Richard Harman recalls his filming an interview at Vogel House with Muldoon after the 1984 election defeat when he trenchantly refused to follow Labour’s devaluation instructions which was aired and then followed by Lange’s interview eviscerating him – the country was on the verge of bankruptcy, high-stakes drama played out via the late news. So too the Queen Street riot in December. I remember watching those incredible pictures, agog. Richard Prebble slagging off Lange for dismissing him as SOE minister on Eyewitness News in 1988 led to his complete dismissal from Cabinet the following day.

We have seen the roll-back of evening news before. I remember Dad used to buy the Auckland Star’s “8 O’Clock” (as in 8pm) edition for the horse racing results. That ended, then the Auckland Star – Auckland’s afternoon newspaper – itself went out of business in the early ‘90s. The TV evening bulletin had moved from 6:30pm to 6:00pm, the talk radio stations had extensive news on their afternoon shows and there just seemed no audience for a newspaper later in the day that was obsolete when the schoolkids delivered them at 4pm.

Now, in June 2024, we have no late news at all. The dissolution of appointment television seems near complete. Where once the newsmakers, the politicians and the audiences would make an effort to catch the late news, to make something of it, to give it value, there is no action or energy. It stopped being a thing. A cultural relic now just of interest to a researcher going through an archive. After 9pm we are all binge-watching Netflix or hate-watching our enemies on tik-tok or facebook or doom-scrolling twitter or cam-whoring after 9pm – there is no appetite for news it appears. Other nations seem to have kept their late night shows and viewers, but not here. Why?

It is regression, a backward step in the history of human development to abandon news like this – that is the gut feeling. Less news is less information is less knowledge is less civilisation. But I would have said that about the 8 O’Clock and the Auckland Star had I a blog back then as I’ve said it about the abandonment of TVNZ 6 and 7 when that happened and yet through every retrenchment the world keeps spinning… even if there is no one there to report on it any more.

When I see Bryce Edwards’ comprehensive daily news lists and I see routinely that on some topics the majority of sources are behind paywalls I do wonder what the effect is of this combined with the retraction of television news will be in the next few years. The future electorate will be informed by whom, exactly? The audiences are splintering and the age of collective experiences is now of a bygone era replaced by algorithms and memes.

 

11 COMMENTS

  1. The news has only ever been a set of beliefs that the broadcaster wanted us to believe (mostly guided by those with paid advertising) in my lifetime so while it is sort of sad to see them reduced they never answered the big questions in life so the world will go on (for a while at least) without them.

  2. Apart from those people who actually work or worked on the broadcast news shows, who will really miss them?
    Maybe the elderly shut-ins who watch The Chaser beforehand as the high point of their day?

  3. We watch TV3 News and view it as a competition: A competition to spot the errors, omissions and the lies. LOL
    TV1 I cannot even stomach, it’s so fucking woke.

  4. My God, Tim, when you go after someone, you REALLY go after someone. Though it surprises me to say so, you made me feel a little bit sorry for Mike McRoberts. Otherwise, the post was, as usual, right on the money.

    Those who publish books, magazines, newspapers, and blogs have always presented their own beliefs and values to the world, Bonnie. The “big questions of life” tend to be asked and answered in print. Campfire tales we gave up long ago.

  5. People from the right get there news and information from conspiracy theory sites whilst dismissing all other media platforms so their comments
    or mental competency is hardly balanced.

  6. I can’t afford quality New Zealand journalism. It’s fragmented and splintered, d*mn near everyone worth reading is behind their own individual paywalls, and much as I’d like to, just can’t afford to pay them all.

    Give me a decent pay-per-story aggregator and I’d be as happy as an MP with a housing allowance.

    • if you subscribe to Democracy Project for $20 a month you get more than one Kiwi writer.
      Substack too. Pay for one get a half a dozen.

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