The Australian’s Media section today carried a story talking up the changes made to the Sunday program a year ago, and the program’s slew of 2007 Walkley Award nominations.

The story is long on criticism of the former host, Jana Wendt, but short on insight.

No mention of how Sunday’s ratings have gone since the changes; the two hour average is off 30% since Ms Wendt was replaced, and the first hour is a disaster area, beaten regularly these days by the ABC’s Insiders.

No mention that the changes wrought by former EP John Lyons and News Director, Garry Linnell (now working for News Ltd’s Daily Telegraph) a year ago, have been undone. The program’s look has changed and the male co-host, Ross Greenwood, was ousted by John Westacott in his first move on replacing Linnell. Ray Martin was put into the chair next Ellen Fanning.

That has not lifted the ratings.

Unlike Insiders, which has got a genuine kick upwards in audience figures from the pre-election and now full election campaign, Sunday’s audience is static. Insiders has been beating Sunday in the 9am to 10am slot for some weeks now.

Sunday’s audience is low for the hour from 9am to 10am, but rises when the Sunday morning market leader, Seven’s Weekend Sunrise, ends.

Last Sunday for instance, Sunday averaged 222,000 across two hours, Insiders, 210,000 from 9am to 10am.

Between 9am and 10am, Sunday with an average of 169,000 for the hour across the five major metro markets, ran fourth, beaten by Weekend Sunrise (426,000), Insiders (210, 000) and Ten’s Video Hits with 186,000.

Sunday’s audience jumped from 10am when Weekend Sunrise and Insiders ended and it won the hour to 11am.

Sunday has tried everything to reverse this: running the cover story earlier, changing the timing for the Laurie Oakes political interview, using other content, to try and boost audience numbers.

Its audience was flattened when Seven revamped Sunday Sunrise into Weekend Sunrise and watched its audience climb above 400,000 viewers (it does better than Monday to Friday Sunrise). Sunday’s audience tumbled, from the high 300,000, to around 320,000, then 300,000 and then under that level.

Then Jana Wendt was white-anted and replaced and the program turned into a lighter version of itself to  take on Weekend Sunrise. Greenwood and Fanning were named co-hosts. A sports host was introduced. The audience struggled to keep up and gradually tuned out.

The Australian’s story today also featured an unwarranted attack on former host Jana Wendt by the reporter, Amanda Meade, who uses a Good Weekend magazine story from last Saturday and comments critical of Wendt by former friend and reporter, Graham Davis, to launch a bitter attack.

Davis and Wendt have worked at Sunday, SBS and Seven and at one stage Davis wrote a story in The Bulletin magazine defending Wendt. Now he claimed in the Good Weekend that the former Sunday host would rather take the money and run “her convictions doesn’t extend too much past looking after Number 1”.

The author, Amanda Meade, took up the tenor of those comments in the rest of her story (why it’s not online is odd), that Sunday “has emerged victorious” from the public relations battle between Sunday and Ms Wendt.

Sunday has been confirmed for next year.

Meade ends her story with the question “does anyone believe she (Wendt) is the custodian of quality journalism any more?”

That’s a question that could be asked about this story, when it ignores the most basic of elements about the past year of Sunday’s performance.

Viewers don’t want to watch it when it’s up against similar programs. In the end that is the only measure, as I know from my time at Nine when Sunday Sunrise drained some of Business Sunday’s audience.

Making quality journalism that fewer people are watching can make you go blind.

She also doesn’t disclose that John Lyons, who commissioned those stories at Sunday, left the program and is now a senior writer on The Australian.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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