Brian Edwards Media

The Trouble With 3 News and How To Fix It.



Today’s Herald reports an increase of 5% among viewers in the 5+ demographic for One News over the past year, giving the bulletin a cumulative nightly audience of 665,100. 3 News’ audience in the same demographic over the same period declined by 15% to 375,190 viewers. Put simply, 3 News has just over half as many viewers at One News.

Setting aside the argument that TV3’s target audience is the 18 to 49 demographic, having just over half of your competitor’s audience is not a good look when you’re arguing that you’ve got the better product. And it’s an even worse look when that  target audience is also falling.

My personal view is that 3 News is the superior product, or at least it would be if it dealt with a situation that I’m convinced is not only keeping viewers away but driving them away – the dual newsreading/reporting role of Mike McRoberts. 

For some considerable time TV3 has pitched the concept that its 6pm newsreaders not merely deliver the news but are out in the field collecting it. In other words, they are journalists and isn’t that good? But the average viewer doesn’t give a stuff whether the people reading the news are journalists or are out in the field collecting the news. They either like the look of the newsreaders or they don’t. Moreover, despite what we read on the backs of buses, Hilary Barry is rarely out in the field collecting stories. But Mike McRoberts frequently is, often wearing a flak jacket the middle of some theatre of war.

Barry and McRoberts are, in my view, the best newsreading team in the country. And McRoberts is a superb foreign correspondent. The trouble is that on a significant number of nights his dual role means that he isn’t there to read the news, but is replaced, generally by Alistair Wilkinson.  This is a bad arrangement for two reasons:

First is the loss of continuity. Viewers like things to be predictable and familiar. They like to know that when they turn on the prime-time news bulletin of their choice, the same people will be reading the news on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday who were reading it on Monday. But TV3 doesn’t have one weeknight newsreading team, it has two: Hilary and Mike; Hilary and Alistair. And though it pains me to have to say it, because he’s a really lovely  bloke, Alistair Wilkinson is a terrible newsreader.

Put more kindly, he is miscast in the role of newsreader. As a field reporter he is fine. But in the studio his reading can only be described as bizarre. There is absolutely no connection between his delivery and the sense of what he is reading. His emphases are random. The significant is unstressed, the insignificant stressed. His sentences are punctuated with no regard to their meaning. His plosive or perhaps explosive delivery is reminiscent of the late lamented Keith Holyoake.

And here’s the bottom line:  Alistair looks like an absolute sweetie. But when he is reading the news on 3, Judy and I switch to Simon and Wendy. We find Alistair too hard to listen to. And we may not be alone.  

But ultimately this is not Alistair’s problem. It is Mark Jennings’ problem and it arises directly from Mike McRoberts’ dual role as newsreader/foreign correspondent. Until that conflict is resolved, 3 News may continue to languish in the ratings.

In the meantime, TV3 might consider using Simon Shepherd, a perfectly good newsreader, as McRoberts’ permanent stand-in. And wouldn’t Alistair make a wonderfully quirky and endearing reporter on Campbell Live?

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  1. “Today’s Herald reports an increase of 5% among viewers in the 5+ demographic for One News over the past year”

    That IS a surprise. Are you sure it is not the 5-demographic?

    Am I the only person in the country who does not give a toss who reads the news? I certainly do not give a damn if Mike reads it one day followed by Alastair the next.

    I am more interested in substance, good reportage and the absence of the syndrome, “if it bleeds it leads”. Both news channels fail abysmally on all counts and their news presentations are little more than comic strips for those who cannot absorb more than one thought at a time.

    One has to go to TVNZ 7 to get anything approaching good quality news presentation which I assume has something to do with the lack of advertising which means that the channel does not have to retain an intellectually challenged audience. National Radio is superior to the whole bunch just because we do not have the comic book distractions.

    Why is it necessary to have two newsreaders anyway?

    • Am I the only person in the country who does not give a toss who reads the news? I certainly do not give a damn if Mike reads it one day followed by Alastair the next.

      I’m afraid that ignores the fact that the messenger can get in the way of the message.

  2. Brian I think part of the reason for the drop in viewers to TV is the terrible content! I was always a firm TV3 watcher because you seemed to get at least 20 minutes of actual news.

    it seems to me that now there might be 20 minutes of ‘news’ ie we will show you it because we have pictures. Rubbish entertainment items are often in the top 3 items, and 3 has moved very firmly into the lowest common denominator news that TV1 is so good at.

    I think 1 has lifted its game and 3 has plummeted to the depths of ‘news.

    I hung on for a long time, loyal to 3.

    Now, after months at shouting at the TV at 6pm I’ve given up on both of them.

    there is more going on in the world than weather and sport and the trivialities of nz ‘celebrities’

    • there is more going on in the world than weather and sport and the trivialities of nz ‘celebrities’

      Couldn’t agree more, but I think you’ve got your channels confused. One News now has three bites at the weather, regularly promotes its own upcoming programmes during the news and has just introduced teasers which not only tell you what’s coming up, but in how many minutes. Have a look at my post on the similarity between the old time music hall and television news.

  3. Until last two Fridays ago TV3 was my preferred evening news program. their decision to lead the evening news with a 6 minute bulletin about the ‘formally conjoined Sri Lankan twins in Australia meeting their Sri Lankin birth mother for the first time as non-conjoined individuals’ led me to the decision that “I need to watch this rubbish [TV3] anymore”. Five years ago TV3 was punchy and informative, now they seem to be putting in a concerted effort to plum the depths. Admittedly the evening news is an irrationally emotive topic, however I personally will not be making the effort to watch TV3 anymore until the following are fixed:

    Hilary Barry- Hilary is one of the worst aspects of the TV3 bulletin. Her insistence upon linking almost every story together is maddening (and once you realize that she is constantly doing it, it is all the more maddening). I am in my mid twenties, but music videos, recreational drug use, and alco-pops have not yet destroyed my attention span. I do not need to be treated as an infant, I can follow the news without Hilary’s help. Furthermore McRoberts’ seeming desire to ‘play it straight ‘ leads to an unconscious tension with Barry’s gleeful pleasure in the un-newsworthy and uninformative.

    Links with the reporter in the field- I gather these are called ‘donuts’ in the industry because of their circular and non nutritious nature. Although links are sometimes warranted, TV3 overuses them and structures them in distracting manner

    The info-board – So CNN Presidential election coverage 2008. It is pointless and gimmicky- personally I am not amused by an anchors ability to manipulate bullet points with their hands.

    Human interest stories- I know this stuff sells but it seems to taking up more and more of the news hour. I secretly think that it may be a zero sum- focus groups have afforded programmers the belief that it sells, they put it in the bulletins to combat a declining audience, audience declines because of lack news in proportion to human interest, network chucks some more human interest stuff in to combat decline in audience.

    Self reference- I like post-modernism but not in my news. To spend 20-30 seconds self-referencing the program is a needless waste of airtime. I know it is a calculated attempt to make the viewer feel part of the news, but it is distracting and comes across to me at least as smarmy non-news.

    • Until last two Fridays ago TV3 was my preferred evening news program.

      Almost all the things you accuse TV3 of are also done by TVNZ. As for Hilary Barry, don’t make the mistake of thinking the people who read the news are the same people who write the news. They aren’t.

  4. I have been unable to take Alistair Wilkinson seriously since he asked a detective during a press conference (in tones of utmost sincerity): “Sergeant XXXXX – is there a serial killer on the loose in Manawatu?”

  5. I used to have problems with Mike McRoberts. No matter how perfect his delivery might be, nor how weighty the content, all I could see was Bernie Winters. I did say the problem was all mine.

    So, for me the flak jacket worked.

    Myself, I habitually go firstly to TV3, but will then jump to ONE if pushed and bounce until bored.

    Are crime stories and road crashes just too easy/cheap to cover, or is NZ now the murder capital populated by the world’s worst drivers.

    When Mike’s away, they ought to give Hilary a run on her own, ’cause sadly I have to share your sentiments in respect of Alistair.


  6. “I’m afraid that ignores the fact that the messenger can get in the way of the message”

    That does not say much for the audience does it? All the more reason to listen to the news on National Radio followed by newspapers the next day.

  7. I agree with your criticism of Alistair Wilkinson’s delivery. He needs to be taken in hand by a speech trainer and taught how to set his cadences correctly. Or normally. Or even unnoticeably!

  8. After some years watching TV3 news, I recently tried TV1 but quickly changed back. What I like about TV3 is that I don’t see the newsreaders; they blend into the background.

    Both channels have all the same nauseating tricks we have discussed often, but with TV3 they are less intrusive. With Simon etc the tricks are all I see and they are made worse by the greater prominence of the individuals.

    So, in summary I like the more understated style of TV3. Hmmm, just occurred to me – how does that fit with the intended demographic. A channel focusing more on younger viewers would surely be more concerned with overstatement. Or maybe its just me!

  9. I hadn’t really given this much thought but like Kerry above I too used to watch 3News only and have more recently – for maybe a year – been watching mostly One’s coverage. For me it has less to do with the actual newsreaders and more to do with the support programmes like ‘Q&A’.

  10. I like Prime’s non-frilly half-hour news bulletin at 5.30pm.

  11. Some of the things our favourite American consultants have introduced to NZ –
    Donut live crosses. As mentioned above, so named because of the hole in the middle. No longer just for new breaking news, slowly establishing themselves in our subconscious as just another production tool, like having two presenters of opposite gender. Apparently the trick is to make the live cross relevant and “active”, to try to give some purpose to a scene where nothing is actually happening. Things to look out for include reporters holding up props, walking from one irrelevant place to another, holding up handfuls of documents, and writing on whiteboards. While they are called donut live crosses, they are sometimes referred to as “dog-lick” crosses.

    “Active” writing. Look for a few key phrases, “3News has been told…”, “Our cameras were there…”, “I’ve just got off the phone with…”, “XXX has been across the story since this morning…”, “We were the only media organisation there…”, “One News can exclusively reveal…”. They also love to see “ownership” of a story, which means stretching a story out over a couple of days, just to remind people that they saw the story first on one particular channel or another – “As we told you last night…”, “You will remember how we told you…”.

    “Moving” reporter stand-ups. My personal favourite, this involves some young pup of a reporter performing like a seal in order to provide some drama to a nothing situation. Again, look for purposeful walking, showing and telling, writing on walls/classroom whiteboards/beaches, fake phonecalls from reporters in the newsroom.

    All this is brought to our screens by expensive American consultants trying to replicate their framework from middle-sized American TV markets to NZ. No mention is made of our television history, or our understated, practical roots. As yet, there is no real evidence that its succeeding, but a whole bunch of news executives have pinned their careers to it, desperately trying to fight for a larger market share of a steadily decreasing collective audience. Much money is spent in order to analyse the perceptions and impressions of the third of NZers who watch television news. Just why two-thirds of NZers no longer watch is a mystery to them.

    • Some of the things our favourite American consultants have introduced to NZ –

      Really interesting, No Surprises. Thanks for that.

  12. Possibly one of the best comments I have seen on the dilemmas of modern ‘network news’

    • Possibly one of the best comments I have seen on the dilemmas of modern ‘network news’

      That’s great, thanks. I’ll put it on the front page.

  13. Enjoyed Ross’s youtube clip.Dont watch either news show.I only listen to national radios news.If either show could change the national radio news reports into a visual format I think they would have a winner.
    On a slightly different tangent I still dislike the moniker “Radio New Zealand National”,almost like saying the same thing twice.

  14. We usually turn on National Radio and have the TV news running with the sound down so we can have pictures…Radio With Pictures…there seems to be more continuity that way.

    • We usually turn on National Radio and have the TV news running with the sound down so we can have pictures…Radio With Pictures…there seems to be more continuity that way.

      Great idea!

  15. 15

    There is no question in my mind that 3 News has become more sensational, more trivial and more opinionated in its style and that Duncan Garner’s reports seem to be setting that style. Especially around the expenses/Carter stories, where there seems to be a kind of complicit humour and lack of seriousness that we are all expected to share in. 3 News seem incapable of reporting this material in a straight way. An example from last night was Garner’s report on Carter’s application for sick leave. At 1.49 in the report, he lays out Labour’s options:

    — Expulsion
    — Suspension of his membership
    — Censure
    — A slap on the hand with a wet bus ticket

    I would expect to see option four in a political parody not what is ostensibly a serious news report. I want to know what the options genuinely are not Garner’s opinion. This kind of style has infected the rest of the news hour as well as Campbell Live which started strongly this year but has gone back to its lightweight, often celebrity-driven human-interest stories.

    The trouble is that, as an urban Gen X-er, I am tribally TV3 in much the same way that the baby boomers and older are tribally TV1. It doesn’t feel “right” somehow to watch One News at six so I’m stuck with a news hour that I feel is getting worse and worse before my eyes. Increasingly, I’m watching TVNZ’s news at 8pm on TVNZ 7 for a straighter, simpler style.

    But I agree that McRoberts is the best newsreader on TV currently and that they need to keep him in the studio.

  16. Have abandoned NZ television news entirely. Talk about the dumming down of the NZ population – how on earth can they masses make an informed decision on anything of worth. National Radio has provided for me very well the past three or four years as my now sole source of locally produced news, complemented by NY Times et al via the web.

  17. 17

    Tap and Hum: “Talk about the dumming [sic] down of the NZ population…”

    Talk about it, indeed.

  18. Personally, I have largely given up on TV news (Two young kids to wrangle in the evening, no time to sit down before 8.30). I’ve replaced TV news with a combination of Radio New Zealand and internet sources.

    Now when I catch TV news, it seems rather light stuff. There is seldom any breaking news, the content seems based around what images there are at hand, and finally, everything story seems to be trimmed to fit in the ad breaks.

    In short, the product is not as good as in competing media. Given the statistics you provide, (which would have come from the Neilsen boxes?), I’m actually in the majority 75% of New Zealanders who don’t watch TV News.

    Do you know Brian if the TV channels actually considered reviewing its TV news operating model?

  19. Fortunately we now have TVNZ7 for those of us who want a little more integrity from our television news readers. Greg Boyed is still called upon to read lines written by someone who, presumably, plies their normal trade on TV One, but reads the lines with teeth gritted, as it were. There may be hope yet in spite of the presenters on One and Three who have turned off their critical faculties.

  20. Eric on Prime at 5.30pm is by far the best newsreader and he does the weather. All on his own !!!

  21. TVNZ6 and TVNZ7 seem to be what I’ve long wished the rest of TVNZ (and other channels I guess) would become. Straight to the point when it matters, not entirely news-for-dummies, an okay selection of programmes that don’t involve people screaming at the camera (or each other), or putting people in moronic artificial situations.

    I’m skeptical about how long it’ll last. Do they have any realistic future given their parent organisation?

  22. I must agree with Sue re: Prime News. Eric Wossname is precise, to the point, doesn’t attempt humour (never advisable in a newsreader) and best of all the entire bulletin is 30 minutes long. That means that if there is something I want to see in (marginally) more depth, I can tune into One or 3. It’s like a news sampler.