How Seven News Adelaide has topped the ratings every week for 16 years

What makes South Australian coverage unique

John Riddell, Jane Doyle, Graham Archer

The stories coming out of Adelaide in the past month have captured the nation’s attention. The most notable were about Adelaide woman Cassie Sainsbury caught in Colombia and Port Adelaide’s clash against Gold Coast in Shanghai. The last was a historic match as it was the first AFL premiership game to be played in China.

Since the arrest of former personal trainer “Cocaine Cassie” in Colombia in mid-April 2017, the story has been regularly making headlines in print, TV, radio and online. Seven News Adelaide’s director of news and public affairs Graham Archer told Mediaweek that Sainsbury’s connection to South Australia makes it more important to that market than anywhere else around the nation.

“Nationally it is an interesting story, just as the Schapelle Corby story was, because there is this big question mark over her [Sainsbury’s] guilt or innocence,” Archer said. “It has more relevance to our audience. They probably relate to it more closely than a Melbourne or a Sydney audience would.

“It does put pressure on us to exploit and explore as much of the local elements of the story as we can.”

Seven News was the first on the ground when the story broke.

Just before Mediaweek spoke to Archer, the news had broken overnight about Sainsbury’s mother and sister signing a deal with Nine’s 60 Minutes.

“It makes things more difficult for us,” Archer admitted, “because as a part of those contracts the people signed cannot talk to other media. That is a challenge. But in some way that makes us work a bit harder knowing that we are not going to get easy access to the talent.

“The mother and sister have now gone to Bogota so they are outside our precinct anyway. Oddly enough though, the fiancé isn’t part of that deal. Perhaps, there’s an option there. We locally wouldn’t think about buying an interview.”

A few days after this conversation, it was revealed that Sainsbury’s fiancé, Scott Broadbridge, had signed on the dotted line for an exclusive interview with Seven’s Sunday Night.

Apart from the busy month it’s been for Seven’s news and current affairs team in Adelaide, they’ve also had a few reasons to celebrate. This month, Seven News Adelaide marked 425 weeks of successive ratings wins. Meanwhile, its current affairs program Today Tonight marked 640 consecutive weeks at #1. The broadcaster is miles ahead of its competitors in the news and current affairs department.

Contrary to the news bulletins in the metro cities on the east coast, the hour starting at 6pm in Adelaide is split into two halves – news and current affairs. Seven News Adelaide runs for the first 30 minutes. Then Today Tonight takes over from 6:30pm to 7pm.

“I have personally been a great champion for Today Tonight because I started the program here originally 22 years ago. I am also a great believer in long-form storytelling,” Archer said. “While news is appointment viewing where everybody wants to get their fill of what happened today, current affairs are a bit more discretionary. People will dip in and out depending on the story. So the audience numbers aren’t as stable as news, which is sometimes a source of concern and criticism, but the fact that the program has not lost one week in 16 years shows that there is clearly an appetite for that type of storytelling.”

A double-headed news presentation

The 6pm news presenters Jane Doyle and John Riddell have been reading the news bulletin together for over a decade. Prior to Riddell, Doyle hosted the news with Graeme Goodings.

“It’s historic in terms of Channel Seven. For a very long time we have had two newsreaders. It goes back about 20-30 years,” Archer said. “It’s good to have a male and female reader delivering the news, because 50% of the population is either one sex or the other. They like to hear from either side, so it has a good balance.

“It also works in a practical sense where, if one presenter takes leave, we still have the other newsreader to cover the bulletin.”

The rapport between two presenters has a big part to play when it comes to keeping viewers, Doyle and Riddell told Mediaweek.

“The audience gets an opportunity to feel more personality from the two presenters,” Doyle said. “They enjoy the opportunity to see a glimpse behind the persona of a news presenter.”

Riddell added: “As a viewer myself I know when people are putting it on. You can pick it a mile away that they don’t really like each other.

“The great thing with Jane is that when you walk into the studio you know everything will work. If I am not having a good day, she will cover for me and vice versa.”

Today Tonight on the east coast

The program was once a national show, which gave Nine’s A Current Affair a run for its money. Seven made the decision to axe Today Tonight from the markets along the east coast to make space for an hour-long news bulletin.

This was a decision that Archer was “disappointed” by.

“I understand that they were wanting to match the full hour news with Channel Nine and I kind of accept that that worked in the east,” he said. “It meant that there was more pressure on us to produce the material, because we lost the Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne bureaus.

“In some ways though it’s a good thing – our program is certainly more local than it had been prior to that.”

If there were discussions taking place at Seven Network to bring back Today Tonight along the east coast, Archer said, he would be one of the loudest people in the room arguing for it.

Talking to John Riddell

Riddell joined Seven News Adelaide in 1989 and has been working with the broadcaster ever since. “That’s because no one else will have me – that’s the thing,” he said, laughing.

He started his career in media through a newspaper cadetship. Before joining Seven News Adelaide, he’d worked for competitor Nine News Adelaide for about 10 years. “There is no reason to leave [Seven News], especially because of the news dominancy,” he said.

Riddell misses being on the road chasing news stories. However, he is living his dream with his current job, so he says he can’t complain. “I used to think years ago that I would love to present,” he said. “I did a pretty long apprenticeship – I did 15 years of weekend news – before I moved Monday to Friday.”

Riddell also presented the weekend news bulletin on Nine Adelaide for about four years.

“For people who don’t know my background and say to me, ‘It’s all right for you – you’ve got a plum job,’ I say, ‘Hang on, I’ve done 19 years of apprenticeship.’”

Talking to Jane Doyle

Doyle joined Seven News Adelaide in 1989 as the weekday news presenter. She has been with the broadcaster for nearly three decades. “I love what I do – it’s that simple. I came to Channel 7 from the ABC and there hadn’t been a great success rate in transfers, particularly women, across to commercial television. So my initial thought was, ‘It’s a great opportunity. If I see my contract out that would be great. And if it doesn’t work, that’s okay too.’” [Laughs]

Her position limits the number of stories she is able to pursue but that’s not something she misses. “What I do miss is long-form writing,” Doyle said. “I like writing.”

News presenting and technology

Technology disruption has been the subject of many discussions in the media industry. Asked how this has impacted on a newsreader’s job, Doyle said, “News hasn’t changed. The way in which we deliver it has. Everybody talks about the speed of news today. The actual events of the world are happening at the same pace as they have always happened. What’s different is the speed with which we could record them.

“In terms of what I do on television, technology doesn’t make that much of a difference. What I am doing is communicating a story to the viewer.

“My job of sitting in front of a camera really hasn’t changed. It’s all changed around me.”

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