Only in commercial TV can a cost-cutting move like ending the local production of Channel Nine News in Darwin be spun as a positive. Nine has decided that Darwin’s only commercial TV news bulletin will now be produced by the network’s regional Queensland division in a restructure that will leave the ABC as the only locally produced TV news bulletin in the Top End’s capital city.
Management announced the changes to staff in a meeting yesterday, but the network hasn’t yet confirmed how many jobs will be cut. The bulletin will be run under the same model as news bulletins currently being rolled out across regional Queensland: with local newsrooms but with bulletins presented centrally by a metropolitan newsreader. Nine says it will be looking at redeploying staff to the regional Queensland offices if possible (they include Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Toowoomba) but would not confirm whether long-time newsreader Jonathan Uptin would remain the face of Nine News Darwin.
Darwin has a population of about 140,000 and for local news relies on daily newspaper the NT News, Nine’s evening bulletin and the ABC’s TV and radio bulletins and website.
The Northern Territory isn’t included in ratings surveys, but media analyst Steve Allen said there is no doubt local news bulletins always rate better than news beamed in from metropolitan or other regions. In Darwin, Southern Cross broadcasts Seven’s Adelaide 4pm bulletin and Melbourne’s 6pm bulletin. Ten also broadcasts an interstate bulletin at 5pm. The ABC has a locally presented 7pm bulletin every night. Allen says any ratings losses from losing local reporting would be offset by the money Nine would save: “Local bulletins are always more popular than their national bulletins, it doesn’t matter which market it is. But journalism is a very expensive product — journalism is becoming some of the most expensive programming in the country. Sure, what’s substituted will rate lower, but with the cost out it’s going to enhance the bottom line.”
In a statement, a Nine spokesman said the “back end” work would benefit from new technology and systems that had been put in as part of the regional news roll-out across the eastern states:
“The people of Darwin will continue to get the best local news service from Nine, with reporters on the ground in Darwin covering all the breaking local news, sport and weather, mixed with the important national and international stories from the Nine team of reporters around the country and the world.”
Nine has been rolling out new regional bulletins since the beginning of the year, with four in regional Victoria, four in southern New South Wales and seven to go to air in Queensland, with Cairns’ bulletin starting this week. These bulletins are read by the metropolitan newsreader centrally, but they have new newsrooms in each of the locations. Earlier this year, Nine’s head of regional news Mike Dalton (who was an ABC reporter in Darwin back in the 1980s) told Crikey Nine was investing in regional journalism, and that this was a “good news story” for the industry.
Northern Territory Senator Nigel Scullion wrote a statement to Nine asking for an explanation for the cut and an assurance the network would continue to provide the NT with the greatest possible local coverage. “It is imperative Territorians continue to receive their news from journalists based in the Territory who know the local issues and have an interest in reporting on local events. Darwin residents deserve the full breadth of media coverage — locally-produced and broadcast,” he said in the statement.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner told the ABC he hoped Nine would reconsider the decision: “I don’t want the Territory image to be confined to the negative news story or the classic NT News front page, it needs to be more than that, and when we lose voices telling the Territory story, that hurts us all,” he said.
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The Nine spokesman said there were no plans for further changes after this restructure.