Emma Alberici: “A terribly sad day for journalism”

ABC’s axing of Lateline is not part of a cost-cutting measure, says host Emma Alberici, with no journalist to lose their job.

Speaking to Radio National Drive host Patricia Karvelas yesterday, Alberici acknowledged the show’s sliding ratings and costs. But she understood ABC management’s move to restructure its current affairs teams across a variety of shows and platforms.

“It’s a terribly sad day for journalism, for a program that has a very proud history and I’ve been with for almost six years. As you point out some of the best journalists in this country have been attached to the program,” she told Karvelas.

“We’ve broken stories, we’ve won Walkleys, Logies, quite recently we were the impetus behind the royal commission into child sexual abuse and the Northern Territory intervention. The show has a really proud tradition of breaking stories and our interviews have been among those most talked about the next day. But it’s an unfortunate part of what’s happening throughout the media landscape and the fact that to meet audience demands we all need to change the way we deliver news.

“Our audiences have not held in terms of numbers.”

“I’m sad to see Lateline go because the brand means something to me and all the people who have worked on it over the years, and most recently. I also recognise that our audiences have not held in terms of numbers. That’s true of all free to air television, not just Lateline, but all shows. So it becomes more difficult to justify having 2 current affairs programmes every night being 7:30 and Lateline.

“Our funding started to go three years ago as everyone who follows this would be well aware. Breaking news and producing original journalism costs a lot of money. When you start taking money out of a show it becomes difficult to do that and management I guess, and I understand this, had to make a decision about when audiences are (as frayed) as they are, and splintered all over the place on On Demand, Netflix, Stan, Foxtel, and everywhere else in between iTunes, we are competing with all those players that are new, for eyeballs.

“So you need to work out where your money is best spent. The ABC has made a decision that we need to protect our history of breaking stories, original journalism and investigations and put our money there.”

Lateline will remain on air until the end of the year with Alberici to become ABC’s Chief Economics Correspondent.

“No money will be saved by losing Lateline”

Yesterday ABC also announced the end of The Link. Host Stan Grant is to front a prime-time news discussion show at 9pm on ABC News channel and a half-hour late edition national news bulletin at 10.30pm on ABC. He also becomes Chief Asia Correspondent.

“Management has been very clear that there is no cost-cutting agenda here,” Alberici continued. “We’ve been told no money will be saved by losing Lateline and no net journalism jobs will be lost. So the same number of journalists will be employed by the ABC next year as are now. So that’s very comforting and I’m very happy to hear that because I, like those who do what I do, care about quality journalism and if what we doing is investing more money into that and worrying less about the platforms through which that’s delivered ….that, is you don’t have to be attached to a particular programme as long as you’re making a fantastic story that breaks news, is original, uncovers something that others didn’t want uncovered…. then that will find an outlet these days.

“At the moment journalism can be a post on Facebook as it can be a story on Four Corners. Things have changed so dramatically in terms of how you define journalism and we need to be where our audiences are. I think that’s the challenge for all media organisations. So while of course we are all incredibly sad to see Lateline go, as long as we are protecting our commitment to quality journalism and those sorts of stories that have made the ABC the place everyone goes to for reliable news, then I think that will be okay.”

15 Comments:

  1. I’m not surprised by this decision. Lateline has degenerated into long boring interviews, rather than a general news program. I can’t remember the subject or the interviewee the other night, but he was a terrible speaker and it just went on forever. I left.

    • It’s degenerated because they cut the budget, resulting in fewer stories per show, fewer satellite interviews, etc. A cynic might even suggest the budget cuts were merely a bureaucratic precursor to axing the show – a slower, duller show resulting in lower ratings, thereby justifying the axe.

  2. Secret Squïrrel

    I look forward to the evening news being a couple of smartphone videos shot in portrait mode interspersed with a series of stock images that are slowly zoomed while a chatbot reads text lifted from someone else’s blog.

  3. I’m sad too that Lateline is going. I worked on it in 1993 as a production assistant and loved the challenge and the quality of the journalism and the technical processes. ABC News/Current Afairs shows have been such an excellent training ground. I worked on it when Kerrie O’Brien was host, and it was dually broadcast from 2 control rooms – host in Canberra and the executive producer and production team in Sydney. Satellites and sound and vision bearers would beam up and down the eastern states and often around the country depending on where the guests were. Kerrie would have a new subject each night and expert guests to interview and be prepped for. They were an amazing group of people to work with. It is sad that an audience has dwindled for substantial and in depth discourse.

  4. Well, yes, it’s a terribly sad day when any remaining members of an endangered species dies.

    The belief that we can just put its DNA on ice and revive it later if we want is an enticing one, but still hasn’t been proved possible in practice…

  5. Very mature and considered response from EA. The whole industry has to manage the decline that’s occurring across the board with viewer numbers. My own kids are no longer viewers, as are we (almost) save for majoe events. If they’ve kept the staff then really what are they saving? Apart from studio costs? I would rather less spent on News 24 and mpre spent on shows like this that provide analysis.

  6. The Link was a terrible show for 7.30 on a Friday night. The issues it covered were just a complete miss mash for that day and slot. Anyway how about a bit of old fashioned entertainment ABC ? Isn’t Friday night about unwinding from the week ?

  7. Still can’t see any solid reason for the axing apart from Lateline being a sacrificial lamb to the more despotic factions of the Turnbull Government.

    • Nick”Still can’t see any solid reason for the axing apart from Lateline being a sacrificial lamb to the more despotic factions of the Turnbull Government.”

      It was an expensive show that too few watched. It is being replaced by an investigative journalism unit and as Ms Alberici said in this article “Management has been very clear that there is no cost-cutting agenda here. We’ve been told no money will be saved by losing Lateline and no net journalism jobs will be lost. So the same number of journalists will be employed by the ABC next year as are now. So that’s very comforting and I’m very happy to hear that…”

      With all respect Nick, the use of the term “despotic” to describe a democratically elected Government is offensive.

      • The govt may be elected but it’s beholden to small factions in its ranks and on the cross bench-witness Hanson and her menagerie’s attempted assault on the ABC in recent months.

    • The use of the word despotic is a denigration to those leaders who control a Secret Service, have unlimited Executive Powers and use phrases like “National Security”, “Fake News” or “On Water and Land Matters” to justify their actions. The term “unrepresentative swill faction” might be more appropriate, MP’s whose utterances do not reflect the majority views of their electorate.

    • Your problem, Nick, is that you’re neither a writer for a News Ltd paper nor a Liberal opposition member. Based on recent examples, they appear to be the only two groups who can legitimately call a democratically-elected government “despotic” and get away with…

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