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MediaNovember 24, 2015

MediaWorks Board Rewards Mark Weldon with Contract Extension after Horror Year

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Mark Weldon, the embattled CEO of MediaWorks, has just been granted a contract extension by the company’s board, according to an email leaked to The Spinoff. In the email, written by MediaWorks chair Rod McGeoch, he describes recent media coverage of Weldon’s performance as “well beyond what any reasonable person would see as a justifiable reaction to an environment of change and… totally unacceptable.”

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He goes on to announce that “Mark has agreed with the Board and the Owner for a meaningful contract extension, which was recently signed”.

A separate MediaWorks source described the reaction amongst staff as “disappointed, but not surprised”.

“We knew there was a meeting happening yesterday,” they said, “because there were heaps of fancy cars around. Some people were hopeful it might mean something, but not many. He’s kind of been invincible this whole time.”

The timing of the contract extension is intriguing, coming after a week in which a number of news stories (most since removed) were posted on referring to staff losses at Scout, the gossip site he has championed. Next came The Spinoff’s own history of Scout’s first two months, before Stuff reported that MediaWorks staff were being urged to boycott their CEO’s wine company.

More broadly this year has seen:

– X Factor lurch from crisis to crisis

Campbell Live shut down, despite huge ratings during its review

– A subsequent “boycott TV3” campaign launched

– MediaWorks staff actively boycotting Scout

– A reality TV-lead strategy which, The Bachelor aside, produced very low ratings

– Current affairs show 3D assembling to a legal team to fight looming cancelation

Hardly the kind of record which demanded a contract extension. The key paragraph from the email is below:


The Author’s Opinion:

Change is hard. This era is hard. But Weldon isn’t alone in this hard task. Sinead Boucher is figuring it out at Fairfax. Jane Hastings at NZME. Paul Thompson at RNZ. All of them are facing variations of the same problem: how to continue to run legacy industries while at the same time embracing the future.

And, of the New Zealand media’s ‘big four’, only Weldon has tried to do so much, so quickly. But Rod is wrong to point to an overreaction, either amongst media covering the situation, staff enduring it or viewers turning off their screens.

It’s happening because he has failed to understand how integral news is to both media organisations more generally, and to TV3 in particular. News isn’t simply a nice-to-have for TV3 – it is the very foundation of what people think about when they think about the channel. That division has created stars, reliably, consistently over a period of decades. John Campbell, Carol Hirschfeld, Hilary Barry, Samantha Hayes, Duncan Garner, Mike McRoberts… They were the faces of the organisation, cheering the country’s triumphs, commiserating its tragedies.

They did not do it alone. When I visited the newsroom earlier this year I was struck by the way Hilary and Mike sat at desks amongst everyone else, diligently working away, amongst a plethora of on and off camera talent. All trying to get the news out.

There was a whole ecosystem in there: producers, researchers, editors and presenters making news long and short, light and heavy, every day of the year.

And the strength of what they created allowed the channel to do everything else it did.

But Weldon’s repeated attacks on the sanctity of that product, his indifference to its power, has created the wretched position TV3 finds itself in today: he has, in my opinion, been as damaging to the channel’s brand as the loss of Home and Away was to its ratings base.

It didn’t have to be this way. He had a good plan, and it all started so well. But he has become news by attacking news, and so long as he continues to do so, he’ll stay news.

And TV3 will continue to suffer. Thus it seems mystifying that after such a nightmarish year, despite the lack of an obvious media suitor for the CEO, the board would decide to offer an extension to their embattled executive.

Keep going!