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Dunne's Weekly: Newshub And TVNZ Tip Of Media Iceberg

There has been a positive but restrained response to the deal announced between Stuff and Warner Brothers Discovery to “save” TV3’s six o’clock nightly news bulletin, currently screened under the Newshub label. According to Stuff, the deal will mean that around 40 of the jobs involved can also be saved.

This is cold comfort for the majority of the approximately 300 staff who currently work for Newshub, and the 68 TVNZ news and current affairs staff who were told last week that their jobs would be going over the next three months. There will be many presenters, journalists and production staff from both channels displaced and left looking for work in a local media market which has been decimated by these rationalisations.

That will be bad enough for those affected, but there are also wider implications and consequences that are not yet being spoken about.

The New Zealand School of Broadcasting in Christchurch currently offers a range of courses in “screen, journalism, and digital media”. It says its graduates “go into exciting careers in newsrooms, television studios, radio stations and production houses.” Well, not anymore it would seem. Even before the recent turmoil the school was finding it increasingly challenging to fill the approximately 70 new places it had on offer each year. The scuttling of Newshub and the cutbacks at TVNZ will likely make it nigh impossible to attract new students in the future, because there will be no jobs for graduates to go to in New Zealand.

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The School of Broadcasting is a publicly funded entity, and in a time of fiscal restraint the government cannot be expected to look too kindly on continuing to support an agency that now seems set to be training New Zealanders to work predominantly for overseas organisations such as Sky News Australia, or Al Jazeera, in the future.

But while the New Zealand School of Broadcasting is an obvious downstream casualty of the upheavals in Newshub and TVNZ, it is by no means the only one. There are currently around 22 other New Zealand universities and tertiary institutions offering qualifications in journalism and communication. These range from diplomas, through to full degrees and post-graduate qualifications.

While not all these qualifications are specific to broadcast media, there will nevertheless be significant implications for these courses, arising from the Newshub and TVNZ situations. And, consequently, their ripple effect is likely to continue for some years.

It is all reminiscent of the situation New Zealand Railways faced in the 1980s following the Booz-Allen Report. That report recommended an overall size for the railways at the time of about half what it then was. The government accepted the recommendations, and then had to confront the reality that it still had a network of railways workshops at Otahuhu, East Town, Hutt Valley, Addington, and Hillside all geared to producing rolling stock and other equipment at a level that about twice what was required. Massive closures and redundancies were the inevitable outcome as railways struggled to ensure capacity was resized to better meet its needs.

The equivalent situation now faces the Tertiary Education Commission and tertiary providers regarding the future of journalism training. In a country of New Zealand’s size, with its limited media market, it begs the question as to how it was ever reasonable to assume 22 different journalism qualifications and courses could be offered. The shakeup caused by Newshub and TVNZ in recent weeks puts that question into even starker relief. As it surveys the current situation the TEC will need to acknowledge it is more than likely there will be more upheavals to come as journalism is reshaped to meet the demands of the modern technological environment.

In that regard, carrying on as at present is simply not an option. Streamlining the range and type of courses provided to achieve a more uniform national standard, and supporting centres of excellence rather than encouraging course proliferation would be useful initial steps the TEC could take. Students, after all, want to be assured that they will get value for money in the worth and contemporary relevance of the qualification they gain, particularly in what is likely to become to an even more fast-changing industry in the future.

When the interests of those students today and those contemplating future careers in journalism and media production are taken into account, the need to make journalism nimbler and more relevant to today’s environment becomes overwhelming.

While cold comfort to those at NewsHub and TVNZ currently pondering their own futures, a move in this direction would be a step towards equipping the next generation of journalists and media staff with the tools to cope with a rapidly changing work environment.

In case you missed it, read my latest Newsroom column on www.newsroom.co.nz

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