The dumping of Jim Waley is just the first of several changes that will hit the Nine Network news.
Don’t believe that the dust has fully settled at the Nine Network after the ‘dumping’ of Jim Waley from the Sydney 6pm news in a particularly ham-fisted style.
In fact sitting back and changing Channels Friday night from the tennis to the rain game in Brisbane between Australia and the Windies, was there a quick shot of the Nine Network’s latest non-man, Jim Waley?
Outside the Stalinist and Maoist regimes of the world there’s few organisations that are so quick to ignore the past and re-write history while rejecting those who they once praised than a TV Network, with Nine at the top of the lot.
Jim Waley is the latest to be written out of the Nine history of the world, but evidence of how last minute the decision was, came on Friday night.
A promo for Nine News mid-evening and who did they show in a quick cut? None other than Jim Waley himself! As I said, ham-fisted and something that reflects on Max Uechtritz, the director of News in the Sydney newsroom of Nine.
That promo will go!
Waley’s replacement, Mark Ferguson, gets top billing, but the punchline, which is the same around the country in each state, is that Nine is “Australian for News”. That’s self-serving rubbish and is certainly not in Perth where, by Nine’s standard, Seven is Australian for News.
Gone is the line, pinched from the ABC in the US, that “more Australians get their news from Nine than any other source.”
That surely applies to the Australian ABC if the audiences for News Radio and the ABC current affairs shows, not to mention the various news broadcasts through the day, are added up.
Then there’s that huge poster in White Bay in Sydney which was still there this weekend. With Jim Waley and Ray Martin, it has a lot of visibility.
But like the regimes of old, Waley’s picture will be cut out and Ferguson slotted next to Ray. Or will Nine take down the current one until they work out what to do with Ray?
But the thing that upsets lots of people at Nine and other networks is the lack of any recognition for Waley’s long and valuable service for Nine from David Gyngell, the Nine CEO, Uechtritz or Kerry Packer.
Packer asked Waley to fill in for Henderson when the latter retired. Packer asked Waley to give up Sunday and Business Sunday, which he had made his own. He did that, quite rightly, to concentrate on the news.
Over his career Waley has taken risks for his career, at the urging of Packer, Sam Chisholm and David Leckie. Packer asked him to front Sunday back in 1982 and that meant a high-risk move out of the Sydney newsroom to a program that was untried.
Later Nine had the half-baked idea Sydney Extra/ Live at Five (Dead at Six was the name other Networks gave it!), a sort of pre-news show at 5pm or 5.30pm (that exists to this day in Brisbane and the Gold Coast on Nine, of all places).
Jim was asked to front it, even though he was probably not right for the role. Frankly, it was a silly idea. Jo Pearson, a good newsreader, was tried and couldn’t make it work. It helped end her career at Nine.
Waley was then reading the highly successful weekend news for Nine, with the Sunday night 6pm broadcast the one all readers at Nine wanted to be seen doing with the highest audience of the week.
From memory he was followed into that slot by Eric Walters or Ian Ross, or Walters and Ross swapped. In any case, Ian Ross benefited from getting the weekend gig and moving off the early morning news. But Jim Waley did the loyal, corporate thing, and fronted up on Sydney Extra, which bombed.
Go here for Waley’s career, as explained by Ninemsn.
There was no doubting his diligence as he also fronted Nightline while keeping Sunday and Business Sunday.
In the late 1990s, as Brian Henderson’s career continued, it looked like Waley might not make it, but then in 2002 Henderson let it be known that he would retire at the end of ratings that year and Nine (with Packer intervening) chose Jim Waley to replace him.
Nine won the ratings in Sydney for 2003 and 2004, although Seven closed the gap last year, putting pressure on Nine and Waley’s performance.
To blame him for any weakness though is to absolve Gyngell, Alexander and Packer for their interference and personnel changes. Forcing out News and Current Affairs boss, Peter Meakin, Sydney News director, Paul Fenn and to have driven the appointment of Jim Rudder, were among some of the changes that affected the 6pm news.
A botched remake of the set and the colours and lighting (something that was corrected late in 2003 after Seven moved to Martin Place and produced a different look) was driven by Rudder after being signed off by Gyngell and others.
Mark Ferguson has a similar background to Waley, coming from the New-England-North West of the state, a newsroom professional, time in London, then doing other things and slowly emerging as the heir apparent. His reading of the weekend news made it look more and more like he was hovering in the wings should Waley fail or have to be replaced.
Ferguson is ambitious and has made no secret of his desire for the 6pm slot. After London, he went off to do the Good Medicine program, returning to the newsroom and being a ‘hand’ and waiting for slots to appear, all the while pushing to do as much reading as possible, even if that meant early morning news.
His urbanity hides a very ambitious individual who, like Waley, does back this ambition with talent.
Nine apparently organised secret focus groups late last year while they had the so-called Q-tests on Waley and Ferguson that showed higher scores, especially with women for the latter.
Even though Ferguson did well in the tsunami crisis (Waley, on holidays, was told to stay there by Nine, while Ray Martin’s offer to return was accepted), the decision to replace Waley would have been made in most executives minds late last year. Boxing Day onwards merely confirmed the rightness of that decision in their minds.
Now the question at Nine is who will read the weekend news at Nine. Georgie Gardiner, recruited from Seven, has been filling in for Ferguson this summer as he has read the main Monday to Friday bulletin. He’s also done at least one weekend so he’s a workhorse, as was Waley.
But she’s pregnant and will have to be replaced in the next few months, if only until she returns. Helen Kapalos, who is reading Nightline(and his favoured by PBL CEO John Alexander) might get the gig. She improves with each outing.
But the tip is that Nine will not push a strong reader into the slot to allow Ferguson to settle in to the 6pm without the appearance of a replacement on the weekends, should he stumble.
If he does well, Ferguson could very well be the Sydney 6pm reader for many years to come.