Nine’s new chum, News and Current Affairs Director, Garry Linnell,
will be greeted with some unwelcome news when he starts his new job today –
audiences continue to be nonplussed by Nine News and A
Current Affair
, and there are also looming problems with Today.

Last night, Seven News and Today
Tonight
easily beat Nine between 6pm and 7pm. Nine News only won Brisbane: Seven beat Nine News by 180,000 viewers
nationally. Meanwhile ACA failed to make an
impression on Seven’s Today Tonight – TT won by more
than 290,000 people across the five major metro markets.

And that’s a big problem for Linnell and McGuire to ponder: how do you fix a program like ACA?
Until now, the problem has defeated good TV operators so perhaps it’s just
possible that a TV neophyte like Linnell is the right person to inject
some new ideas. Then again, Paul Bailey, another former editor of the Bulletin was
parachuted into Nine four years ago and lasted just three years before jumping to the Australian Financial Review.
If Linnell were to seek him out, Bailey might have some interesting advice
on just how hard it is to switch mediums. The terminology, jargon and
news gathering styles are very different, so too the storytelling and
production skills required.

To borrow from corporate lingo, Linnell’s “challenges” are myriad. Yesterday, Seven’s Sunrise
averaged 438,000 viewers compared to an average of only 225,000 for Nine’s Today.
And the morale-sapping cuts to news and current affairs jobs are likely to set back recent ratings gains made by Nine News.

Seven, by contrast, cut staff in 2004 but since
then has cautiously rebuilt. More importantly, Seven is more technically advanced than Nine: it has full
digital network, a full digital studio in Martin Place and at Docklands in Melbourne, its news staff
edit with server-based technology and it has single person crews. Nine has
two man crews, old fashioned linear editing in many newsrooms and only limited
digital non linear editing for programs like Sunday and 60
Minutes
.

There’s an added irony. At Beaconsfield, CEO Eddie McGuire big
noted himself and Nine by writing a cheque for $2.6 million for the
miners and Nine met bills of another million dollars or more for the
News and ACA costs at the mine. Less than a month later, he’s announcing that 100 jobs are going to
accommodate a new way of doing TV News and current affairs. What Eddie avoided saying was that these cuts were imposed
on him by Park
Street. When John Alexander became head of PBL
Media in 2002 and assumed responsibility for Nine he
started poking around the network and discovered to his horror the size of the
news and current affairs budgets: they were well over $85
million.

Because of inflation and the cost of
chasing stories, these have grown each year despite attempts to cut them.
Alexander failed in repeated attempts for mass cuts. During the two rounds of cuts at Nine last
year under Sam Chisholm, news and current affairs were targeted, but not
slashed: the division’s budget was $10 million or so above what it should have
been, according to head office.

Last year Alexander appointed Ian Law to
replace him at ACP and brought in Pat O’Sullivan from Optus (a cost cutter who
had left the number two telco weakened and with operational problems because of
a shortfall in capital expenditure.) O’Sullivan has led the cuts, with Nine CFO,
Brent Cubis. Ian Audsley,
the so-called chief operating officer, was in on the loop but didn’t drive this
round of cuts.