Week in Review

Media person of the year

MediaRoom's annual salute to those who stood out, through strong and high-calibre journalism and executive innovation and success, in the news media sector.

Who is the individual who contributed most to our news media this year? The person who stood out in what was a year of exceptional journalism and notable, if desperate, attempts at fundraising and dealmaking to reinforce media businesses?

MediaRoom's annual tribute to those who did good in our own industry last year named Kathryn Ryan the standout for 2018, following the outstanding election year for Guyon Espiner in 2017. Here are this year's finalists:

Melanie Reid, Newsroom.

In past years we exempted the staff of Newsroom itself, wary of self-promotion. However this year it is impossible to compile this list without including our investigations editor Melanie Reid for the video story that revealed Oranga Tamariki attempting to 'uplift' a baby from its mother in Hawkes Bay Hospital. It was watched nearly 600,000 times and led to four separate inquiries and an urgent Waitangi Tribunal case. It will change the way the state takes children from families. It made a difference.

Patrick Gower, Newshub

His two-part documentary ‘Patrick Gower: on weed’ was the best watched programme on television this year – partly because of the high interest in decriminalising cannabis but mostly because it was Paddy Gower inquiring, fronting and getting stoned on air. The show wasn’t perfect – drug policy people let him know that – but it succeeded in its job of taking the pros and cons to the people. Gower also stood out for his investigations into far-right groups after the Christchurch attacks.

Scotty Stevenson, Spark Sport and TVNZ

Rugby commentator Stevenson signed on with the upstart online broadcaster and, despite its initial technology problems, made the Rugby World Cup a personal triumph. He called it all, the good and the bad, with a love and a vocabulary all of his own. When the Cup became a poisoned chalice for the All Blacks, Stevenson recognised defeat, didn’t condemn or excuse the failure and carried off his first Cup final with aplomb.

Miriyana Alexander, New Zealand Herald

Alexander is the editor who finally brought the Herald paywall to life. A former Herald on Sunday and Weekend Herald editor, she took over the role of editor, premium content, and drove the successful launch of the online subscriber business that had been needed for so long. It had immediate success, with 15,000 paying readers in the first months, bringing millions of revenue to the paper at a critical time. It is working so well that rival Stuff, long an advocate for free access to its content, is considering some form of reader-funded payment for parts of its site. 

Martin Stewart, Sky

Stewart took over from veteran John Fellet as chief executive and proceeded to shake up the pay TV company – overhauling its on-demand services, restructuring pricing, rearranging sponsorships, boosting PR, backing women’s sports, cutting a big deal with NZ Rugby for broadcast rights which gave the union an equity stake in Sky, and even making the SkyGo app viewable on a TV screen. His rapid-fire investment in deals and programming will have come at a big cost and it’s too soon to know if they’ll succeed – but he has started to put Sky back in the game.

Tapu Misa and Gary Wilson, e-Tangata

The brains behind e-Tangata, the brilliant weekly online Maori and Pasifika current affairs ‘magazine’. Misa and Wilson provide a forum for life experiences and voices that are missing in many other news media and, through their meticulous editing, help launch beautiful thinking and writing into the public mind every Sunday. 

Rod Emmerson, NZ Herald

Well into his second decade as the Herald’s editorial cartoonist, Emmerson still excels at his craft, avoiding lame-ass themes, bigotry and nostalgia through deep-thinking and stylish drawing. He managed in 2019 to capture the mood, even after terror and natural disaster, in a way few can match. All of which stands in stark contrast to those who would bring his profession down.

Indira Stewart, First Up, RNZ 

Hailed by John Campbell, among others, as a rare broadcasting talent, Stewart launched the 5-6 am show for RNZ with a bang – not for her a formulaic run-through for insomniacs or gym bunnies. From the Oranga Tamariki uplifts to the Whakaari-White Island disaster, Stewart presented strong programmes with moving interviews which could stimulate the news agenda.

And the winner is….

Winston Peters, NZ First leader.

No, just kidding. But let’s acknowledge the biggest conversion on the road to Damascus since Saint Paul. Peters, the persecutor of journalists, suddenly offering himself as a friend in support of the NZME-proposed purchase of Stuff. Some journalists blanched at the thought, however, as this is the man who makes it challenging for media or the public to take his words at face value.

The real winner….

Jane Wrightson, NZ on Air

The outgoing chief executive of the public media funder, Wrightson has been ahead of her time in finding ways within NZ on Air’s ambit to fund endangered forms of journalism. The work of Melanie Reid and Patrick Gower, cited above, is just a sample of the public interest journalism now made possible online as well as on television and radio by NZ on Air.

Wrightson has been a champion for all things New Zealand – drama, comedy, music, documentaries, children’s programming and now, investigative journalism and public interest current affairs.  Skilled at handling politicians and politically appointed board members, Wrightson has helped bring a stability to the local production industry that is admired internationally. 

Wrightson’s organisation has provided a blueprint for a Government struggling to solve the media industry’s woes. Increasing NZ on Air’s funding to provide the media with direct financial support would be a lot faster fix than creating a new, single public broadcaster or waiting for the big private players to rationalise the industry.  Wrightson has shown that taxpayers can get great value for money if the funding decisions are left to NZ on Air.

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