Once seen as some­thing of jour­nal­is­tic back­wa­ter, RNZ'S get­ting trendier, more in­no­va­tive, more pro­gres­sive and, in times of strife, its non-com­mer­cial ap­proach ap­peals.

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Talk­ing to head of dig­i­tal Glen Scan­lon, RNZ'S evo­lu­tion into a mulit-plat­form broad­caster is no overnight re­sponse to dig­i­tal dis­rup­tion. As he ex­plains it’s long been try­ing to do new things. He goes back to 2013 when The Wire­less launched be­fore fast-for­ward­ing to the roll­out of its Vox­pop app last year that en­ables ra­dio net­works to quickly and eas­ily col­lect, pack­age and play the voices of its peo­ple to its au­di­ences. It’s gen­er­ated in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion and is be­ing tri­alled by a US show. Mean­while, work to im­prove its web­site and app con­tin­ues. “We haven’t got it per­fect and things will al­ways move and shift,” he says point­ing out the rise of voice ac­ti­vated tech­nol­ogy. With voice be­ing an es­sen­tial part of RNZ'S of­fer, Scan­lon says it’s a great space for it to be play­ing in and it’s al­ready mak­ing the most of Ama­zon Alexa. For those with the RNZ Flash Brief­ing in­stalled, ask­ing Alexa, “what’s the lat­est news?” or “what’s my flash brief­ing?” will de­liver an up-to-date news brief­ing. “It’s ex­cit­ing, the growth and use of de­vices like these over­seas, and they will soon ap­pear in all places and parts of life.”

The voice of New Zealand

The im­por­tance of voice to RNZ is re­flected in its staff be­ing en­cour­aged to use te reo in their broad­casts. “We are New Zealand’s pub­lic broad­caster and te reo is an im­por­tant part of our cul­ture,” ex­plains Scan­lon. “We should def­i­nitely be en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to know more about it and shar­ing what we can.” How­ever, while many lis­ten­ers re­sponded pos­i­tively, RNZ did re­ceive crit­i­cism for pro­nun­ci­a­tion and some ex­pressed frus­tra­tion in not be­ing able to un­der­stand. For Scan­lon, this push back is the re­sult of peo­ple not un­der­stand­ing the lan­guage and opens an op­por­tu­nity for RNZ to be­come an ed­u­ca­tor, some­thing it’s do­ing with trans­la­tions on its web­site. Its use of te reo is in keep­ing with its duty to “re­flect New Zealand’s cul­tural iden­tity, in­clud­ing Māori lan­guage” as out­lined in the char­ter, as well as its pur­pose of be­ing a pub­lic ra­dio com­pany serv­ing the pub­lic in­ter­est. Scan­lon says it also has an obli­ga­tion to reach as many New Zealan­ders as it can with its sto­ries and help­ing it to ful­fil this are part­ner­ships with 24 or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing Stuff, MSN, TVNZ, Bauer and The Spinoff. “Once upon a time, me­dia com­pa­nies didn’t speak to each other and now they are. It’s re­sult­ing in bet­ter con­tent.” He gives the ex­am­ple of the Black Sheep pod­cast se­ries cre­ated with Stuff and the Panama Pa­pers in­ves­ti­ga­tion which saw RNZ team up with TVNZ and Nicky Hager. And be­yond other me­dia com­pa­nies, it’s teamed up with Te Papa to cre­ate the Ours: Trea­sures from Te Papa pod­cast show­cas­ing na­tional trea­sures. Scan­lon adds that part­ner­ing up will sup­port the eco sys­tem of jour­nal­ism in New Zealand which it doesn’t want to dis­ap­pear. Look­ing at its own work, Scan­lon says RNZ “wants to be where New Zealan­ders are and re­flect the ex­pe­ri­ences they are hav­ing” so it’s look­ing to do more re­gional cov­er­age and in-depth pieces as well as Paci­fica and Māori cov­er­age. This cov­er­age sits along­side break­ing news, and Scan­lon says it takes its role very se­ri­ously in news events and times of trou­ble like the Kaik­oura earth­quake, dur­ing which peo­ple look to RNZ for in­for­ma­tion. Those plans to ex­pand the re­mit of its con­tent are just a few it has in the pipe­line to im­prove its of­fer, and some of them were al­ready on the cards be­fore the govern­ment an­nounced its $15 mil­lion in­jec­tion into pub­lic broad­cast­ing, says Scan­lon. The wait is now on to see how that fund­ing will be al­lo­cated and what the govern­ment’s RNZ+ looks like.

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