Tonight Jim Waley will go head-to-head with rival newsreaders Peter Overton and Ian Ross when he presents Sky National News for the first time, from 6pm to 8.30pm on Foxtel and Austar.
The 61-year-old was the first presenter of Nine’s Sunday program and has been in the business for more than 40 years. He considers free-to-air news “inflexible” and says the Sky format will be “tailored and personalised” for the audience.
“The future is niche broadcasting,” Waley says. “Our profile is very clear quality national and international news. We can devote as much time as we like to a piece.” He says the 8pm bulletin will be the most important. “We’re the only news in that slot.”
Waley returns to the news scene after an enforced four-year sabbatical during which he reportedly settled with Nine out of court for more than $1.2 million. Under the terms of the settlement, he was gagged until January.
The dispute arose after he took over as Nine’s 6pm newsreader when Brian Henderson retired in 2002. Two years into a five-year contract, he was dumped for Mark Ferguson. Four years after that, Peter Overton took the slot. The ratings started to slip during Waley’s time but they have dropped even further since.
“They wanted to chase those demographics and the ratings went down,” Waley says.
“I wouldn’t have liked to have been there during the past four years. I take more notice of what an audience wants. There will always be naysayers at Sunday, critics said we were lucky to get half a million viewers. But they were quality viewers.”
As for the youngsters snapping at his heels, Waley says: “I feel like I’m in my early 40s. I’m very active and positive. I like to think people have grown with me over the years and are used to having me in their lounge rooms … I haven’t lost the hunger.
“It’s time to raise the bar on the quality of news. Just because current affairs is serious doesn’t mean it has to be boring. You don’t need a PhD to understand it.”
Waley has no doubt where the blame for Nine’s current problems lie.
“Businesses fail because of management. Some of them just didn’t have a clue. I was treated like cannon fodder.”
As for Channel Seven’s Sunday Night current affairs program being rested for three months, Waley says he hopes it will return. “We need more current affairs programs, not less. The scene thrives on competition.”
Sky National News, Monday-Thursday, 6pm-8.30pm.