Nine enters the fray, but what is the future for TV news?

Charlotte 23 September 2019 3
Vanessa O'Hanlon, presenter of Nine News Canberra.

I cannot understand why Nine would invest in setting up a bulletin for the Canberra region and not hire a local journalist as its anchor. How can a Sydney-based news presenter be expected to connect with ACT viewers, and vice-versa?

The first ever Nine News Canberra bulletin will air tonight, from 6pm till 7pm. Plenty of us will be watching just to see what the commercial giant has to offer, but are Territorians happy that the presenter, Vanessa O’Hanlon, will be reading our news from Sydney? I doubt it.

Nine had a real opportunity to hire a local for the gig. The commercial network could have taken advantage of the ABC’s peculiar decision to pass over talented and experienced members of its existing Canberra team like Siobhan Heanue, Craig Allen and Narda Gilmore as it sought to replace the departing Virginia Haussegger as presenter of the flagship 7pm news bulletin.

The RiotACT understands none of the potential local candidates fitted with new ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie’s diversity agenda. Some were women, yes, but all were white. Craig Allen never had a look in, then, despite being by far the most experienced local candidate.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m all for diversity. The commercial networks could learn some lessons in it from Ms Guthrie. But I don’t think the connection between a news presenter and his or her viewers can be underestimated. There is no doubt in my mind that the cultural and community activities in which Ms Haussegger immersed herself during her time as our newsreader endeared her to Canberrans. Seeing the journalist who reads the nightly news at your local cafe, supermarket or favourite cultural institution during the week provides viewers with a sense that this person on the screen is one of us. We feel they understand what matters to us because they live here too. It’s that connection that leads to trust, and in these times of fake news and a cacophony of sources, trust is vital.

As it transpired, the ABC hired former Sky News NT bureau chief Dan Bourchier (below), a journalist with coastal Victorian Aboriginal heritage, to replace Ms Haussegger. Unlike Ms O’Hanlon over at Nine, Mr Bourchier will at least be based here and has lived here previously.

Dan Bourchier

Just how he can stay awake to read the news Monday to Thursday having already completed the early radio shift earlier in the day is a mystery to me, though. (Mr Bourchier is also the new breakfast radio host at the station formerly known as 666.) I’m sure the commitment levels of the new Canberra face of Aunty please the bean counters at the ABC (and at Federal Parliament) no end, but they set a worrying precedent. No one should have to regularly start work at 4am or 5am and finish their day at 7.30pm. There are health issues at stake as well as quality issues (please note, I base that statement on my personal assessment of what can be achieved by a normal human being in any given day, not on Mr Bourchier’s performance – it is far too early to be passing judgement there).

I like the idea of sharing the opportunities around a bit more, too, I have to say. Giving two plum jobs to one person limits the development paths of others.

On a more positive note, the advent of Nine in the capital is good news for commercial television reporters working here, providing an alternative employer to WIN. The RiotACT knows of at least two WIN reporters who have moved across to Nine ahead of tonight’s first bulletin. Look out for Harry Frost (below, you may recognise him from court and police stories for WIN) and Rosanna Kingsun (also below, previously a correspondent from the Legislative Assembly for WIN).

Harry Frost Rosanna Kingsun

WIN is preparing itself for a tough ratings battle. WIN Canberra has posted two messages that clearly relate to the arrival of Nine on its Facebook page today:

“Did you know that we have been providing #Canberra with a full comprehensive local news bulletin for 27 years?
And we are looking forward to many more years to come.
Join your most trusted local news bulletin tonight on WIN News Canberra at 6pm, on WIN (Ch8) and WIN HD (Ch80).”

#WINNews is Canberra’s most trusted local news service, having covered the region’s biggest issues and events for more than 27 years.
Ours is the largest team of reporters and camera operators of any commercial TV network in the ACT, and we remain the only dedicated half-hour of local news.”

The thing is, I reckon the greatest threat to WIN, Nine and the ABC is not the competition from other TV networks, but the move away from free-to-air TV and from news bulletins altogether.

Our household only watches free-to-air for live sport these days (cricket, tennis, AFL … this morning I put 4pm on Saturday, February 18, in my diary for the opening round of the netball, on Nine, for example). Most of my news consumption occurs as events happen and on social media, typically Facebook. Our drama fix comes from a variety of sources, but mainly Foxtel Play and Netflix. When programs on the free-to-air networks demand my attention (usually because a connection or influencer has recommended them), I watch on my phone via a catch-up service like iView, Plus7 or TenPlay, and when it suits me, rather than at the scheduled time.

A quick poll of RiotACT contributors this morning determined that I am not alone in having changed my media consumption habits to better fit in with my other commitments and to catch news as it happens. When you work and have small children, the period between 6pm and 7.30 is mission critical family time, and not really compatible with the death and destruction we see in the news. That said, I really stopped watching because I found I’d delved into the main stories in some detail online earlier in the day, so wasn’t really watching “news” at all.

There were a couple of diehard fans of the ABC’s nightly bulletin among the RiotACT contributor crew, but one contributor doesn’t even own a TV, another gave up on the box due to poor reception, and another reckons the networks make it impossible to keep track of what’s on when by changing the bulletins’ time slots too regularly. As well as via radio, online and on Facebook, some among us consume news via apps, podcasts and Twitter. One mentioned newspapers, but in the same breath noted that The Canberra Times is rumoured to be shifting to a digital-only model on weekdays and Sundays from July, leaving its Saturday paper as the only physical product.

Every media company is taking a punt on what the future of news will look like. For my part, I reckon TV networks should shift focus towards getting stories out via social media as they happen, rather than only packaging them up for a one-off bulletin. Eventually, the bulletins will go, and their former prime time slots will feature current affairs programs that are more in-depth or involve discussion and analysis of the stories of the day a la The Project and 7.30.

But I say all this, and you know I’ll be watching at 6pm and again at 7pm tonight to see whether Vanessa O’Hanlon and Dan Bourchier can convince me I’ve got it all wrong.

Will you be watching Nine’s first local bulletin tonight, or regularly? Do you watch news bulletins at all these days, or catch your news via social media and radio during the day? Should Nine have looked to hire a Canberran as presenter?

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3 Responses to Nine enters the fray, but what is the future for TV news?
Melissa Carrington Melissa Carrington 5:39 pm 07 Feb 17

I watched the Nine News Canberra bulletin last night. I didn’t think there was a lot of local news – more so national. I wasn’t a big fan to be honest – I didn’t like how it chopped from national to local to national etc. Hopefully it will get better so I will give it some time.

JC JC 5:28 pm 06 Feb 17

I don’t quite follow this statement “How can a Sydney-based news presenter be expected to connect with ACT viewers, and vice-versa?”

We are talking about a news reader, one who will no do doubt read news stories that are national and international as well as local. They clearly cannot be in all 3 places so why on earth does it matter where they read from?

What is important is that there are local crews on the ground gathering and reporting on local news and issues and that the bulletins includes these stories instead of stories that are only of interest to say Sydney in said bulletins.

Rollersk8r Rollersk8r 5:16 pm 06 Feb 17

Vanessa O’Hanlon is lovely – and I’ll tentatively give it a watch tonight, if I’m home in time.

You’ve struck on a couple of points I’ve been dying to comment on. Sorry, but we just can’t get used to Dan Bourchier. I don’t know anything about him and didn’t know he meets some diversity agenda. Regardless, Craig and Siobhan’s delivery is just so much better and it’s a real shame to see them so rarely now. I still want to complain to the ABC about this.

On a separate point – as much as I consider the ABC to be the primary news source for our household, I often have to switch off the news. I want my primary school aged kids to have an awareness of the world, and to know their politicians and world leaders etc, but the ABC is extremely focussed on distressing cases of systemic abuse. I know there’s plenty of arguments as to why these stories need to be covered (and why the ABC is the one to cover them) but we can’t be sitting down to dinner as a family with constant stories of rape and torture.

PS. I know these comments make me sounds very, very old…

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