Simon Hobbs is pretty chuffed with his new office digs.
Moving newsrooms from Nine’s historic Willoughby Studios to North Sydney, he is seeing the benefits of having all his team under the one roof.
“It’s been a total game changer for us,” he tells TV Tonight.
Hobbs is News Director for Nine News Sydney, but his role encompasses much more than the 6pm news. It includes the news bulletins in Today, all national news bulletins across the day, late news, foreign desks in LA & London plus Canberra.
“We’ve never had our whole news and current affairs division in one place. 60 Minutes has always been in the (Willoughby) cottages. A Current Affair was down in the old Scott Street building before they moved into a separate part of the building. And the Today show was separated from News.”
In the centre of the new newsroom is a news editor hub, similar to a BBC model. Raised above several ‘spines’ of journalists it allows for news to permeate from one place, quickly out to all teams. Having all news teams on the one floor at 1 Denison Street is also reaping benefits.
“This puts us all into one space where people can just come and go. The amount of people from other programs that I’ve stopped and had a chat with, who I haven’t spoken to in a year or two, is extraordinary. It’s breeding this one culture, ‘one team’ thing, which we’ve always had, but now it really feels like we’re in the one space.
“It means that we can just communicate much better.”
Hobbs has some 20 years with Nine, split across two separate terms. 2020 was the toughest so far, with staff required to go above and beyond to get stories to ai.
“Our staff have been running really hard since November (2019): bushfires, New Zealand volcano, COVID, US elections, Black Lives Matter protests. That means they’ve done more breaking news than ever, in one year,” he explains.
“We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of extra hours of television. They’ve worked long hours, long days. Just keeping them going has been the biggest challenge.
“It’s been an enormously long and stressful year for all our teams. Not being able to go home and see family. A lot of them have family in Perth, Melbourne or Brisbane, so being cut off and disconnected, working around the clock it’s been hard work for them. But they’ve done an unbelievable job. Our ratings are up significantly year on year.”
Nine News led by Peter Overton won the year again in Sydney, with the presenting team including Cameron Williams, Amber Sherlock, Georgie Gardner, Erin Molan and Belinda Russell. Nine also led in Melbourne and Brisbane, whilst Seven won Perth, Adelaide and nationally.
Hobbs takes none of the success in Sydney for granted.
“The stability that we’ve got right now is sort of a golden period. You relish having the quality people that we have, currently in the roles that we’ve got. This is what you hope for. You hate those periods -and they haven’t thankfully happened to us in a long time- when they’re chopping and changing newsreaders hoping that’s going to fix a problem.
“We see that happen on networks from time to time, but thankfully, we’ve got a beautiful, stable team right across the network.”
But behind the scenes Nine has also seen News boss Darren Wick admit to an alcohol problem, while CEO Hugh Marks made a surprise resignation. Hobbs, who is currently overseeing Wick’s national duties, says both announcements were reported in bulletins.
“We covered it on our digital channels, our social, our news programs. We covered it on all of them,” he insists.
“You’ve gotta be transparent, but also both those guys know that as well. I don’t have to call them and tell them, ‘Hey, we’re gonna run this.’ They just know that’s part of the business and they’re fine with that.
“We don’t shy away from our mistakes in any way, shape, or form.”
This week news turns its attention to the US Presidential Inauguration -Nine is covering live from 3am AEDT Thursday.
Yet after an unforgiving year Hobbs is hoping for a bit less of the major crises that was 2020.
“Please no more news! We’re exhausted. We’ve just run the biggest news year we’ve ever had. It would be nice to let our teams have a proper break.”