One last night for Sam Hayes and Mike McRoberts. (Image: Newshub / 3 News / Warner Bros. Discovery, adapted by Daylight for The Spinoff)
One last night for Sam Hayes and Mike McRoberts. (Image: Newshub / 3 News / Warner Bros. Discovery, adapted by Daylight for The Spinoff)

MediaJuly 5, 2024

Sam Hayes and Mike McRoberts look back in awe and sorrow

One last night for Sam Hayes and Mike McRoberts. (Image: Newshub / 3 News / Warner Bros. Discovery, adapted by Daylight for The Spinoff)
One last night for Sam Hayes and Mike McRoberts. (Image: Newshub / 3 News / Warner Bros. Discovery, adapted by Daylight for The Spinoff)

Days before the lights go out one last time, 6pm anchors Sam Hayes and Mike McRoberts came up to The Spinoff for a candid, powerful conversation about the life and legacy of 3 News.

Tonight Samantha Hayes and Mike McRoberts present their one last 6pm bulletin, the final act of a newsroom which was for most of its existence the most vibrant and creative in the business. I hosted the anchors on my media podcast The Fold for a reflective and at times emotional interview, which attempted to wrap the whole era into an hour. As the conversation below reveals, the organisation has undergone a very public grieving process, with some staff housed in new organisations – Hayes at Stuff, McRoberts at the NBR – while others have yet to find work.

This is the reality of our media right now: it’s undergoing the most sustained financial pressure in its history. Just last weekend news broke that the Sunday News, another brash upstart which once sold an unimaginable 200,000 copies, has published its final edition. 

The end of Newshub is different. It was one of five scale national news organisations – Stuff, NZME, RNZ and TVNZ are the others. Of those, it’s the most recently founded, and had the most formidable opponent in TVNZ. The state broadcaster has enormous incumbent’s advantages: government ownership, the inertia of habit and routine, and huge support from advertisers. It did not take that for granted, continuing to invest in people and technology, using every tool it could to maintain its lead.

TV3 and 3 News – the names they operated under for most of their existence before they became Three and Newshub, and still used interchangeably by staff to this day – were always the underdog. As Hayes and McRoberts describe though, this motivated its people, knowing it was often just you and a cameraperson against a well-oiled machine. Mike McRoberts puts it in clinical terms: “If you want to be on telly, go to One. If you want to tell stories, come to Three.”

TVNZ would no doubt resent the characterisation, but it worked as a galvanising self-image at TV3. It was the fuel that led to the pure, chaotic creativity of Nightline. It prompted Mel Reid to go undercover at Gloriavale, or Duncan Garner to cut off an ankle bracelet monitoring device live on TV. It birthed an array of kinetic TV talent, the likes of Belinda Todd, Joanna Paul, John Campbell, Carol Hirschfeld, Hilary Barry, David Farrier, Kanoa Lloyd and that wild lineage of mononymous political editors in Gower and Garner and Tova.

This is about the people which made 3 News. It was one of the most interesting and at times moving conversations I’ve had. For one of the last times, with a hot mic, here’s Sam Hayes and Mike McRoberts, with more than 40 combined years at TV3, talking about what they did, and what it all meant.

You can listen to this episode of The Fold wherever you get your podcasts, or read on for an edited and condensed conversation.

Duncan Greive: Could you characterise your mood and that of the newsroom during this heavy, heavy final week.

Sam Hayes: It’s a strange time, isn’t it, Mike?

Mike McRoberts: It’s very weird, and it’s been a long time coming too. We’ve always known this week was on the horizon. Some weeks have felt like torture – it’s been a real weird mix of emotions, as some people have gone on to get other jobs, while others still have nothing. We’re a pretty tight-knit group anyway, so I guess there was at the start some relief that we were going through this together. But it’s felt pretty sad over the last few months, for sure.

Sam Hayes: It has been difficult to keep the show going every day. There’s been some heavy lifting there by everybody across the entire team. But in a way it’s been nice to have the time to come to terms with what is happening. Potentially I’m still in a little bit of denial. Our last show is on Friday, and then that will be it for Newshub – but everyone’s been amazing. We’ve got such an incredible culture at TV3 and Newshub. Everyone’s just supported one another. You go through those stages of grief at different times – not everybody is feeling the same way every day, and we’ve kept an eye out for one another. To try to make sure that everyone feels supported when they’re having those tough days.

Duncan Greive: That culture, you feel it radiating through the screen. I can imagine going through something like this, you would really lean on that, it would keep you hanging together at a time when it would be quite easy to fray and break apart.

Mike McRoberts: The culture has changed over the years, but when I first started, 23 years ago, it was very much the underdog up against the mighty foe. There was a bit of a chip on people’s shoulders about TVNZ. I’d come from TVNZ, and I remember one of the producers didn’t speak to me for six months, just because he wanted to check me out. 

That evolved when we started to do well, particularly in areas like foreign affairs, and covering big stories, and our ratings started picking up. Through 2007-2008 we had a real purple patch. We were regularly beating TVNZ in our demographic. So that culture changed again, and I’m really proud of what it’s become. It’s not patch protective, so we teach everyone how to do our own jobs. The support is unbelievable. It’s still such a tight-knit group and that support that Sam was talking about has just always been there.

Sam Hayes: Mike and I have brought through so many different presenters and taught them absolutely everything that we know about the job that we do. I know that it’s not like that in other places, because there’s a fear that they might one day take your job. We actually spoke about this one day, and we agreed that, well, if they’re better than us, they should have it. They should have our job. 

It’s not just us. It’s everybody – Michael Morrah, with his investigative skills, and the entire newsroom. On a big news day it all comes together behind the scenes to support that one person you’re seeing doing the live cross. There could be so many people behind making sure that that happens, and then the feedback comes in afterwards. We’ve got a great Whatsapp group that always gives feedback. I love that, because it’s so supportive. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of, and it’s so sad that it’s stopping.

Duncan Greive: It was the first big private sector newsroom to emerge after deregulation, up against this leviathan, the default provider in TVNZ. Mike, when you were in another newsroom, how was it perceived, particularly as it developed its own particular voice and character?

Mike McRoberts: I started in radio before I went into television. So we’d seen what commercial radio had done in radio – they’d gone gangbusters. There was always this feeling that a private television channel would do the same. It didn’t. It took a long time for people to realise that it was going to be quite a quantum shift to get people to change from One to TV3 on a regular basis, particularly around news. But in the end, it was the news that brought people in. Three has had a bit of a maverick role when it comes to news. Great storytellers – when you think of people like Melanie Reid, for instance, out there going undercover into Gloriavale.

Sam Hayes: She got dressed up in their gear, hitchhiked in there as an undercover ag student. She was the first person to come out of there and tell New Zealanders what it was like.

Mike McRoberts: Amanda Millar was another one. They just pioneered a different way of storytelling and that carried on through. I’ve always said to younger journalists, if you want to be on telly, go to One. If you want to tell stories, come to Three. We tell amazing stories. And we’re still doing that, and we will be doing that up until the last day.

Duncan Greive: It wasn’t contained in any one person or show. There was a willingness to get quite creative in terms of trying to land the story. Where do you think that that came from? Was it people? Was it cultural?

Sam Hayes: Part of it came from a lack of resources. Producers, even to this day, will say “go out there, get what you can, come back, put it together. How do you think it should be told?” And then hopefully Angus Gillies will give it the green light. Maybe you were supposed to have a two minute story, and you come back with six or seven minutes. You get away with it because it’s good. 

That’s part of the underdog mentality. I always remember wherever you went as a TV3 reporter, whether it was 3 News or Newshub, we would be there with our camera operator – the two of us.  I remember once covering a protest, and I looked up and there was a TVNZ camera operator up in some building. Another one was across the road. I thought, how have they got this resource? But then when I watched my story and their story that night, I thought, I don’t really see that much difference. 

Just a few of the faces which popped out of Three’s talent machine over the years. (image: Newshub / 3 News / Warner Bros. Discovery, adapted by Daylight for The Spinoff)

Duncan Greive: Sam, were you a viewer? Did you identify as a TV3 person, even as a teenager?

Sam Hayes: I think so. I first walked in the doors of TV3 when I was 17 years old. I was studying journalism at the Aoraki School of Media in Dunedin, and you got to do a month’s work experience. Being the audacious teenager that I was, I wanted to do the six o’clock news on TV3. They came back and they said, you can do Nightline. I just remember seeing the billboards – the likes of Mike and Carol Hirschfeld and John Campbell and all these amazing journalists – and just thinking, I am the luckiest person on earth. I honestly just do not know another job that would have given me a life so rich and wonderful.

Duncan Greive: Let’s talk about Nightline. Even by TV3 standards, that was quite extra. It created personalities like yourself, like Farrier, like Belinda Todd. It was just so different from the equivalent TVNZ product. What was it like to sort of earn your bones in that environment? 

Sam Hayes: The six o’clock news was just always this great, big, important, shiny thing – oh gosh, don’t break it. You cannot be a part of that show until you are extremely good at your job, and you will never get anything wrong. 

It used to be that you would work your way up through Nightline. The feeling was that the bosses weren’t watching, and we could just get away with whatever we wanted. I did get called into [former 3 News boss] Mark Jennings’ office a few times, so he was watching. But Gus [former Nightline producer Angus Gillies] would tell you that they just wanted to push the boundaries. In fact, if you weren’t getting complaints, then you felt like you weren’t pushing the boundaries enough.

Duncan Greive: Mike, can you describe the atmosphere in the newsroom during that “purple patch” period you described – with you and Hilary and Campbell Live and so much original journalism and current affairs.

Mike McRoberts: It was such a buzz to have the storytelling capacity that we now had. I remember the very first night, we had six o’clock news with Hilary and myself. Then we had Campbell Live, and then 60 Minutes after that. It was a hell of a lineup, and it really felt like we’d made it –  we’d hit the zenith. I think once the global financial crisis hit, things were pulled back. We ended up losing 60 Minutes. It was also at a time when I was doing a bit of traveling as well, going to some of the biggest events and conflicts in the world.

Duncan Greive: In my mind, through that period, half the time, you’re in a flak jacket, and half the time in a suit jacket.

Mike McRoberts: It was actually a testament to Jennings. He saw the benefit and the importance of having presenters who are journalists. So he would look for every opportunity to exploit that difference. Presenting the six o’clock news from Lebanon during the war in 2006 was a first for New Zealand. But it was also about the storytelling. It wasn’t just being there – it was about telling the stories.

Paddy Gower, Hilary Barry and Mike McRoberts during a golden era for TV3 (Image: Newshub / 3 News / Warner Bros. Discovery, adapted by Daylight for The Spinoff)

Duncan Greive: There is this thing that Three has done consistently over basically the whole time of its existence, which is to identify and develop talent. What has it been about the culture there that has managed to attract a particular type of person then spin them up into what feels like the kind of apex version of what they could be as journalists or presenters?

Sam Hayes: I look at my own career and think, why on earth did anybody put me on air in the first place? I was pretty rough around the edges when I arrived up in Auckland. I grew up in rural South Otago, and I rolled my Rs. I stopped when I was 17. I’ve wondered my entire life: how on earth did I get this opportunity to do this? I think that maybe the answer to your question is that the people at Three have always been willing to take a punt on somebody. To look beyond what might be a stereotypical view of what a news presenter or a news anchor or a TV journalist might need to look and sound like, and give people the opportunity to develop into those roles.

Mike McRoberts: I remember the first year that I started, in 2001, John and Carol were reading, and John was away, so I presented with Carol [Hirschfeld], and Clint Brown was doing sport. So three brown faces on a national network at six o’clock – it had never been done before. I didn’t think too much of it until my brother texted me during the show and said, “What the fuck is this, Te Karere?” [he was joking]. We were doing what probably the state broadcaster should have been doing, but doing it first.

Duncan Greive: Three, along with its underdog status, also had this kind of rolling financial chaos about it. The news had to happen in spite of that a lot of the time. Can you talk a bit about that experience? 

Sam Hayes: We’ve always been up for sale. It’s happened so many times that if you did focus on it, it would be too distracting. I remember when we went into receivership, and Jennings pulled me into his office to reassure me and talk me through it. I asked if we were still doing the show and just carried on. 

That’s part of why the shutdown news was so much of a tectonic shift. We’d just had a huge team in London covering the death of the Queen, and it felt like a coming of age moment, because we were in all of the best live positions, and we were working alongside CNN, who were part of [Three parent company] the Warner Bros. Discovery Group. And I think you could see the difference in the coverage between the two networks at that point. I felt like we were getting the edge. Then it all came crashing down.

Duncan Greive: I want to touch on the Weldon era because it felt like quite a profound one for the news side of the business. You had this new CEO who didn’t seem to understand or be particularly interested in news, and had a vision for the company that was quite different. 

Mike McRoberts: I think Weldon had some good and interesting thoughts, but he was just terrible at delivering them, and we were in full on crisis mode. I remember when Hilary resigned, a mate of mine came around and he said, “it’s time to point the missiles at Cuba.”

Because we’d lost John as well. We’d lost Jennings. It felt like the whole place was in crisis. I said, well, we need to get rid of Weldon. I don’t care about extra money or anything. This is the time to do it. So I sent an email to the board outlining why it wasn’t working. Just from a pure business point of view, we had a staff turnover at that stage of 35% and we were losing really good people. We’re a business that ultimately sold content, and we were getting to a stage where we couldn’t provide content.

I thought I was writing my own letter of resignation at the same time, but I thought, it just can’t go on. It’s the only time I’ve ever thought we didn’t have a future. As it turned out, two days later, he walked. Things picked up, but it took a lot out of us. I just can’t even think of how many really good people we lost – years and years and years of experience.

Duncan Greive: Let’s talk about the news that it would be ending. Was it obvious from the start that this time was different from other challenges?

Sam Hayes: I think because of what happened during the Weldon era with shows like Campbell Live, we had seen it. We’d seen it time and time again. When a proposal for a shutdown came along, you weren’t going to be changing anybody’s mind. We’d just seen it with The Project before Christmas. So when they said Newshub is going to be shut down – I mean, look, there was a valiant effort by some amazing people within the newsroom, and there was a lot of input from across the whole newsroom, but I think that all of us knew that it wasn’t gonna happen.

Mike McRoberts: That’s been quite hard to get your head around. Speaking to some former colleagues, they said, “oh it’ll take a bit of time to get through your system.” And I said, “yeah, but when you left, it was still there.” We don’t have anything to go back to. All the people that I’ve worked with over the years are going.

Sam Hayes: You’d arrive at work, look around the newsroom and think, it’s everybody. Every last person in here is being made redundant. And not just the newsroom, but 75% of the company. It really was unfathomable.

Mike McRoberts: A lot of them have nothing to go to. That’s the hardest thing. It’s deeply upsetting. But then, this happens in other industries as well. They just happen to be my friends and my colleagues.

Duncan Greive: You two do have new roles, though. Tell me about them, both are exciting in their own way, as much as they must be tinged with sadness at what is passing with 3 News.

Sam Hayes: I’m just so grateful that Stuff has come along and had the guts to take on a big project like this. There are quite a number of really great people from Newshub that are coming along to make this new six o’clock program. It’s going to be quite strange for viewers, because Newshub is ending – Mike and I won’t be there – but on July 6, there will still be a six o’clock bulletin. I’m still going to be there, and there will be lots of people that I work with today that will be on that programme. So there will be continuity of sorts, but it will be different.

Duncan Greive: What about you Mike, you’ve taken on this te ao Māori editor role at the NBR, which represents the culmination of a journey you’ve been on over the past few years

Mike McRoberts: On the night it was announced that Newshub was closing, my 22-year-old daughter Māia, said to me ‘Dad, whatever you do next doesn’t have to be forever’. I thought it was really sage advice for a man whose current CV still has his 1983 school cert results on it. That doesn’t mean that this is something that I’m not going to do forever. It really just gave me the opportunity to look and take a risk. Do something I really want to do. 

I knew that I wanted to do something with kaupapa Māori. It’s been a life changing journey for me. In the last couple of years, [NBR owner] Todd Scott had been in touch a few times, and I really like what they do. They aren’t beholden to advertising or government funding – it’s all subscriptions. That felt like a good fit for me. I get to create something which is this te ao Māori role, doing stories around the Māori economy. So when I walk out of there on Friday night, it’s going to be with really good feelings, with a nice wairua.

Duncan Greive: Could you finish by each sharing a memory that sums up your time at 3 News and Newshub.

Mike McRoberts: I remember covering the 2016 presidential election in New York, when Trump beat Hillary Clinton. And I was there just with a camera in Times Square, and then up rocks Kate Rodger – a beautiful, wonderful wahine toa, who does entertainment. She had been on a junket, and so she came in to help me in a chock-a-block Times Square. She ran kind of interference, got some talent for me. And that’s just how we roll. If you’re there and you can help you do it. 

Sam Hayes: That night was so good. Tom McRae and I were presenting from the studio, and we’d gone on for hours and hours. Trump hadn’t come out, Hillary hadn’t come out, and we just kind of refused to go off air. I think it was two o’clock in the morning in America when Trump finally came out and did his speech. Someone showed me this brilliant photo afterwards. It was two TVs in the office. One was on us, one was on TVNZ. We had Trump speaking, the new president of America, and they had a rerun of MasterChef. 

I remember coming off air, and I said, “Let’s just keep going.”

The final Newshub bulletin airs tonight at 6pm. Tomorrow, ThreeNews, made by Stuff will debut.

Keep going!