FM news in question after weekend gaffe on WSFM

Former Publisher

As radio networks continue to “streamline” their newsroom operations, some in the industry are concerned about the quality, credibility and future of FM news in Australia.

One such blunder that took place over the weekend has reopened the debate.

WSFM positions itself as “Sydney’s most comprehensive news”, and on most days, led by ARN’s national news director Deb Clay, that’s indeed the case. But on Sunday, as the Sydney station’s 3pm news bulletin was broadcast direct from the network’s Brisbane newsroom, an embarrassing on-air gaffe didn’t go unnoticed.

2UE’s Jono Coleman was quick to pick-up newsreader Vanessa Gibson‘s reference to MI 5 as “M-fifteen”. It’s the sort of mistake you may expect from a cadet, not a journalist with many years experience writing and reading news.

“Shame on ARN news and [the] newsreader on WSFM 3pm news,” tweeted Coleman after hearing the mistake on-air. He even suggested Gibson watch a James Bond movie.

In response, ARN’s national content director Duncan Campbell has told Radio Today, “There was a pronunciation mistake made on air by one of our journalists on Sunday, it was a simple case of human error and nothing more.

“ARN have not downsized their newsroom and continues to build on its long history of delivering local news content with a team of experienced journalists,” he added.

On Saturday, Radio Today published this story about dwindling on-air newsrooms, as some networks refocus resources towards digital and further reduce the head count of highly-qualified journalists from its newsrooms.

Within hours of posting Saturday’s story, we received an influx of emails from seasoned radio hacks, and even some cadets. All offered their shared point of view that FM news has suffered most from shrinking budgets.

“Really sad what is happening in newsrooms, basically a lot of kids just out of uni are being employed (cheap to hire) and those with experience being let go,” said one well-known broadcaster.

Another added, “It’s going to be tough out there. As the industry fragments there will be fewer jobs and less money, but hopefully, there will be some solution to the problem.”

As someone who has more than 30 years experience in radio newsrooms, Nikole Gunn has taught Journalism at Macleay College and RTI. Gunn says mistakes happen, but that corners get cut as resources are spread thin across networks.

“I feel for this newsreader, I really do. I mean we all make mistakes and sometimes they’re obvious. You kick yourself afterwards and feel like crap, before squaring the shoulders and getting on with the rest of the shift,” Gunn said.

“Yes, we should pay more than lip service to ‘broad general knowledge’ and know your stuff. But this does demonstrate that there are no processes in place to pick up howlers. Is anyone vetting the copy before it goes to air – like they used to in the ‘Good Old Days’?”

Geoff Field, who recently left 2SM to mentor the next generation of radio journalists at UTS and lead news at 2SER FM, highlighted the need for news bosses to have a balanced newsroom that includes cub reporters and seasoned professionals.

“The big problem newsrooms face in the future, are the lack of funds to employ a mix of mature journalists along with interns and junior staff,” Field told Radio Today.

“In the past, and I know when I started, I looked up to senior colleagues who gave me valuable information on pronunciations, grammar and also advised me on ways to structure stories, new angles and of course the legal ramifications of running police and court stories.

“Not only have I noticed a decline in senior journalists in major newsrooms, but I’ve also observed and personally been affected by downsizing, where one person, usually with less experienced, is employed to do the job of several people.

Field, who spent almost two decades with SCA in Sydney, has also observed the negative effects of networking on FM news coverage.

“Where once we would have a separate reader for each station, many networks now have the one reader, broadcasting and writing for all the outlets, as well as updating digital content,” he said.

“When this happens of course quality is going to suffer, and it’s not the fault of the journalist, or for that matter, the news director who is doing her or his best to deal with the situation under limited resources.”

What do you think about the current state and future of FM news? Let us know in the comments below.

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Recent comments (17)
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27 Mar 2017 - 5:13 pm

It’s not just FM news.
Try listening to Macquarie news on a Saturday evening in particular. Young newsreaders mispronouncing sporting teams’ names and players names. Also giving soccer scores as “points” rather than goals is another example of the problem. They obviously have no interest in sport and it shows.
If they had some experienced help it probably wouldn’t happen.

27 Mar 2017 - 5:26 pm

Sadly the Super network is even worse on Sat nights. I feel sorry for the journos clearly in over their head and clearly not getting the training necessary.

27 Mar 2017 - 6:22 pm

Who knew this many people were listening to the news? I always flick it off when it comes on!

27 Mar 2017 - 6:27 pm

ABC News 24 made EXACTLY the same mistake on their ticker. Even with such an overblown, overstaffed newsroom as the ABC, incompetents still manage to cock-up, so don’t blame it on a lack of resources.

27 Mar 2017 - 6:53 pm

People are always talking about the old days, I have worked in radio news for 15 years and there has always been pressure on radio newsrooms. We need to give this girl a break, it was one mistake in one read. I’ve heard similar issues on 2GB and the ABC. I know that the ARN newsroom has a mix of senior journalists and up and comers.Deborah Clay has a reputation for mentoring emerging talent , and that is something that should be encouraged .News rooms can always use more funding but I find it extremely frustrating when we delude ourselves that things were so much better in days gone by.

27 Mar 2017 - 8:52 pm

It’s a shame that instead of singling out the newsreader on twitter, someone in a position to be a mentor like Jono Coleman wouldn’t pick up the phone and give a quick courtesy call to the newsroom/reader to let them know. I can honestly say I’ve done that on several occasions to the 2UE newsroom over the years.

27 Mar 2017 - 9:48 pm

Part of the problem is that there is no announcer on weekends or at night on ws. Only traffic and news. So what happens when the building is empty and running on auto pilot and it all goes wrong.

The old days
27 Mar 2017 - 10:19 pm

FM news is nowhere near what it once was. I remember Austereo in the 90s and Nova in the early 2000s – both had fantastic newsrooms with great journalists and bulletins that lasted way longer than 30 seconds.

It was about 12 years ago that celebrity “news” took over and detailed stories about important local events went out the window in favour of whatever the Kardashians were up to. I’ll never forget hearing about well known people in the news being referred to as “that guy” rather than by name.

On the whole WS does a great job with news. One new, young weekend newsreader who didn’t know that MI5 was not M15 is really nothing to get upset about. The rest of the bulletin was probably about the most comprehensive you’ll hear on FM at 3pm on a Sunday.

The Evening News
28 Mar 2017 - 12:45 am

Over Christmas I heard Nova 100’s network news mispronounce Northcote as ‘north-coat’.

I also heard many from all over the country (even live, local news) mispronounce Sussan Ley’s name during her expenses scandal.

The quality of news is diminishing as the lines between news and entertainment blur. On FM radio in particular, one starts to wonder why we still do news. There seem to be two competing viewpoints – obviously it’s important enough to keep around, but not particularly important enough to resource properly to ensure a great news service each and every time.

Personally I think news will become increasingly important as more and more ‘oldies’ keep radio alive – then suddenly not important at all when radio inevitably becomes disrupted and is forced to change to be competitive.

John Caruso
28 Mar 2017 - 12:16 pm

Are people still getting their news from the radio?

28 Mar 2017 - 1:02 pm

Smooth doesn’t even have news in the afternoon of a weekend.

29 Mar 2017 - 1:52 pm

The first thing I would say is that radio news is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL to the overall output of any radio station.

While radio station formats will always evolve, it has never been more important to recognise that news is a key point of difference from other competing sources of audio (iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, etc). Ignoring this would be to the industry’s peril.

In respect of this slip-up, yeh, it’s a little embarrassing but not the end of the world, and I wouldn’t put it down purely to a lack of resources or talent. Sometimes sh*t happens, and we all make mistakes.

I’m sure this newsreader will learn from it and ARN will take steps to avoid a repeat. It hardly takes the gloss off their news service which is generally very good.

2 Apr 2017 - 2:08 pm

I just heard a story on Macquarie News mentioning the River “Thayms” in England. Pronounced that way – not “tems”. Also mispronounced a sports name in the same bulletin.
Last night (Saturday) they gave out an incorrect NRL score.
It happens on a very regular basis.

23 Jun 2017 - 11:50 am

I have heard on several occasions newsreaders refer to soldiers as troops in the singular. “An Australian troop has died” was frequent, when we were engaged fully in Afghanistan. In fact earlier this year ABC News 24 and The Project both announced that we would be sending “30 more troops” overseas.
At least M15 and MI5 look similar when reading.

Anthony The Koala
11 Jul 2017 - 6:01 pm

A couple of observations on radio news – it could equally apply to both AM and FM. Today you cannot say that AM is for talk and FM is for music. For example MMM is becoming a sport talk and music station. A talk station goes well with news. A couple of historical notes and observations based on AM stations. AM radio too has had a decline in news services too. It’s not exclusive to FM.

* In the 1970s and 1980s, whenever you had a press conference in Canberra and one would watch the news on TV, one used to see many microphones from various radio stations: 2SM, 2UW, 2KY, 2CH. Not to mention the other states’ radio stations. We don’t see the microphones of say 2SM or even ARN today. Even when there news conferences in Sydney, one used to see MMM and 2Day. Don’t see the equivalent today. Today we see lots of smartphones or digital recorders – don’t know the identity of these journalists.

* Up until the late 1980s, 2GB and 2UE had a half hour news bulletin at midday. It rivalled the ABC’s “The World Today”. Round about the mid 1980s, 2GB had a half hour bulletin at 1700. All gone now.

* 2GB used to have a 10 minute news bulletin at 2200. All gone now.

* I noticed that 2GB’s new newsreaders changing every few months especially during the midnight-to-dawn sessions. They don’t seem to last and most don’t go to other shifts. Mind you it is an improvement compared to the early 2000s where the news at 0100 & 0300 (same) and 0200 & 0400 (same) were pre-recorded at 2300.

They’re observations only. The trend is to less diversity on the airwaves on the reporting of news.

Anthony of Belfield

13 Jul 2017 - 9:41 pm

Am I reading this right? Someone said the name of a road wrong ????is that it ??? oh thank the lord Jesus that Johnathon Coleman was listening ha ha ha .Seriously I have been in radio every week of every month for the past 30 yrs and made a mistake evey day .
At least I can sleep soundly knowing that Jono Coleman has an eye on things ha ha ha .

6 Aug 2017 - 12:25 am

Radio is poor.
Some on air people need to learn not to talk down to people and learn how to pronounce words, if in doubt ask !
Not everyone is funny and being crase is in bad taste…Give the ACMA More teeth…Don’t believe marketing hoss it’s not always right….


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