John Campbell TV3 departure: He's no different to a can of soup

Protesters march on TV3 headquarters in Auckland last month.
PAUL EASTON / Fairfax NZ

Protesters march on TV3 headquarters in Auckland last month.

OPINION: As one of the country's oldest employed journalists — I am an ancient 57 — still reasonably active in a functioning newsroom, I am full of admiration for John Campbell.

Unfortunately, and this is no reflection on him or the rest of his Campbell Live team, I hardly ever watch him. I have more or less stopped watching broadcast television news altogether for various reasons, but mainly because most of it makes me almost physically ill.

But the little I have seen of him and his programme leaves me in awe of his fluency, buoyancy, verve and intelligence. Imagine having to present a programme like his five nights a week and appear sincere, cogent and interesting, whatever you might be feeling.

John Campbell might be the voice of the people but he is also a highly paid television presenter who lost a ratings war.
PAUL EASTON / Fairfax NZ

John Campbell might be the voice of the people but he is also a highly paid television presenter who lost a ratings war.

People think television is easy but just try sitting in front of a camera for a live broadcast. 

I have no idea what Campbell is like in person. He is clearly a fantastic egotist, as most television anchors must be, but he is a fan of American writer Saul Bellow which means he cannot be all bad.

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What is truly astounding about Campbell, as a journalist, is the fact members of his audience are prepared to get off their butts and take to the streets to defend his honour and campaign for his retention.

I can't think of this happening to any other broadcast journalist. Would the dumping of Mike Hosking or Paul Henry provoke an outraged response from the populace? Don't think so, which is not to say either of those gentlemen are without their merits.

Some of the support for Campbell is obviously political. He is seen, possibly wrongly, as a figure who is socking it to a Government increasingly unpopular in some quarters. This is a strength but also a liability for a mass-market journalist. By being identified so strongly with a political viewpoint or grouping he is hamstrung in dealing with the other side. If Ministers cannot be shamed for not appearing on his show, he has a real problem.

Campbell must, as any journalist would, feel touched and flattered by the attention his difficulties have received.

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But as a journalist he must also worry that he has become the news like some sad celebrity.

TV3 is copping a lot of flak for ditching Campbell in favour of another format but can its management really be blamed?

TV3 is a commercial television station. It can't afford to run primetime programmes that don't rate well. Campbell, like many before him, has fallen victim to the ratings. We may think Campbell Live's journalism deserves better support. We may lament a viewing audience that does not appreciate him and his show.

We may decry the falling standards in journalism and what this means for a secular, tolerant, intelligent democratic society.

But in a game when everything is a product, Campbell is no different to a can of soup. If he sits on the shelf with his attractions lost on shoppers, he cannot keep his place on the shelf.

Television presenters come and go. The Hawkesbys , the Baileys, the Holmes. They seem indispensable until their memory fades within a few days of their leaving the small screen. Everyone, especially in the media, is expendable.

I have no problem with Campbell being regarded as a national asset. But his place is probably in public broadcasting where pernicious ratings are not the chief arbiter of success or failure.

So have no fear. Campbell will be picked up by some other broadcaster or media organisation. Watch Radio New Zealand swoop. TV3 and he are no longer a good fit but there are plenty of other avenues out there for a man as talented as Campbell.

Comments on this story are now closed.

 - Stuff

Related Links

What now for John Campbell? video

John Campbell thanks fans video

The sad end of John Campbell

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