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.
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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