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Re: News is facing four job losses from its team of 10 (Image: Tina Tiller)
Re: News is facing four job losses from its team of 10 (Image: Tina Tiller)

MediaMarch 13, 2024

The ‘baffling’ move to slim down TVNZ’s Re: News, and what could be lost

Re: News is facing four job losses from its team of 10 (Image: Tina Tiller)
Re: News is facing four job losses from its team of 10 (Image: Tina Tiller)

It may have been Fair Go and Sunday’s cancellations that drew the biggest outcry, but staff at digital outlet Re: News are worried proposed cuts would leave young people without a dedicated news source.

Staff at TVNZ were left shocked and confused last week not only by the decision to slash television journalist roles, but also to scale back the online news platform Re: News by almost half. In a post on Instagram, the youth-focused digital outlet has confirmed it’s facing four job losses from its team of 10. 

It’s understood the proposed cuts would see most of Re:’s four-strong leadership team ditched, including head Simon Day and content boss Anna Harcourt. One journalist role would also be disestablished and the remaining team of six would report to the head of news, rather than a dedicated Re: leader. Staff are understood to have been given a week to provide feedback on the proposal.

“While we would continue to exist in name, we would no longer be able to maintain our service in the same meaningful way,” the outlet said of the proposal on Instagram.


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A post shared by Re: News (@renewsnz)

Re: News was launched in 2017 as a side project for the broadcaster and wasn’t moved into the TVNZ newsroom until 2022. By this stage, it had evolved into a critically respected youth-oriented brand that netted itself an impressive 11 nominations at last year’s Voyager Media Awards, and took home the award for best news, current affairs or specialist publication. As Duncan Greive wrote last week, Re: had “cohered into a differentiated and vibrant identity, making content for younger audiences which took TVNZ’s brand and values and made them sing in new formats. It represented an investment in the future, and hope.” It’s also impressive given TVNZ had, until relatively recently, been slow to invest in its other digital news brand –

One TVNZ employee who was present in the meeting last week, spoke to The Spinoff on the condition of anonymity and said the move to reduce staff at Re: felt “bizarre and counterintuitive” as executives at the state broadcaster have previously signalled that a shift to digital journalism was needed to survive. 

“The discussions that have been happening… were around TVNZ needing to go more digital, needing to do more of this to be more online and have a greater presence. The executive leadership were talking about Re: and how [they] love their model, and they’re the model [they] want to follow for growing our presence,” the staffer said. “That was only mid-last year… to hear that and hear they’re now gutting Re:, it’s kind of baffling.”

In an interview with Newstalk ZB after the proposals were made public, TVNZ chief executive Jodi O’Donnell said all decisions about content at TVNZ had to be thought of in a “digital world”. She added: “When we go through all of our content decisions we’ll put it through that lens.”

Some of the current affairs shows set to end this year (Image by Tina Tiller)

It’s understood about 100 people attended the in-person meeting on Friday at TVNZ where news of the proposed current affairs restructure was announced. Alongside O’Donnell, the meeting was fronted by head of news Phil O’Sullivan. Among the most serious proposals were the cancellation of current affairs shows Fair Go and Sunday from May, with close to 10% of the company’s workforce to lose their jobs. 

The TVNZ staff member spoken to by The Spinoff described the meeting on Friday as “tense” and said that TVNZ executives were often “backed into a corner” by questions they couldn’t answer. “There were a good 100 people packed into a little room for this briefing, and you could feel the dread, the sadness. You could see everyone’s faces – they ranged from sadness to in some cases rage. There were some people who were understandably quite angry at the executive team for this decision.”

O’Donnell and Sullivan would “push back and say ‘it’s just a proposal’,” the staffer said. “I think everyone collectively decided there’s no changing what’s already being proposed… TVNZ’s had quite a few waves [of restructuring]… whatever they propose, [whatever] they say is a proposal, ends up going through anyway.”

During the meeting, Re: News boss Simon Day reportedly told TVNZ leaders that a plan to make the outlet more profitable had been pitched previously and ignored, said the staffer. “Simon stood up and was talking about how he had pushed for a different model for Re: to follow that the team was fond of and that their audience would also be fond of, and he had brought this up to the executive team.” It’s understood Day expressed concern at TVNZ’s lack of commercial strategy for the Re: brand given its large – and specific – audience.

Day chose not to comment to The Spinoff, while TVNZ would not directly respond to the proposed changes at Re: citing an “employment process”. However, the broadcaster reiterated that these changes had not been finalised. “The consultation process takes place over the next few weeks and we expect to receive robust feedback from around the business and this includes from the Re: team,” said a TVNZ spokesperson.

TVNZ would not confirm, nor comment on, the substance raised in Re’s own Instagram post, though the spokesperson said they were aware of it. “Re: are able to share what they would like to about their situation. The same applies to teams across TVNZ who are impacted by the proposal,” the spokesperson said.

“This is a confidential employment process. Anyone involved in the process has a reasonable expectation of confidentiality.”

The Spinoff understands Re: News staff will be pitching an alternative to the proposed restructure during this consultation period.

Reports have emerged this week of other confrontations between TVNZ staff and executives, such as Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver. The Herald reported that she publicly “challenged” O’Donnell at another meeting held on Monday. She later told 1News: “We need really strong leadership and we expect to get it. And I’m quite happy to call out and challenge it [and] my own bosses when we don’t get that.” Sunday journalist Kristin Hall posted on X to praise Dreaver. “Legend, icon, queen,” read the tweet, linking to the Herald report.

Consultation is expected to conclude next month and the planned changes could take effect by early May. The union representing TVNZ workers, E Tū, has raised concerns at the swiftness of the changes, going so far as to say it was “probably illegal”. 

And it’s possible more could be on the way. O’Donnell told Newstalk ZB that TVNZ would “constantly be looking” at ways to ensure the operating model was in line with revenue, reiterating that there were no “sacred cows”.

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