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An Hour With Gower

From breaking news to—more often than not—making the news, Patrick Gower has made quite the splash this year in his new role as 3 News Political Editor. Co-Editors Stella Blake-Kelly and Molly McCarthy caught up with a former Salient sports columnist turned ‘TV personality’ down at Parliament’s Press Gallery to hear his thoughts on the media’s role as a critic and conscience in New Zealand.
 

What did you study at Vic?

Back in the ’90s I studied Politics with Honours, between 1995 and 1999. I finished my BA, and was pretty surprised that I had a degree, and then I did Honours. Then my parents were really starting to panic because they couldn’t understand what I was doing, so I did my journalism course at the end of that. I have really cool memories of living in Vic House, on Fairlie Terrace, and Adams Terrace in particular, which got no natural light for a whole year. We used to go and drink at the Lazy Shag, which was the Uni pub—$2 handles would you believe.

Have you always wanted to end up in the press gallery?

I was always interested in politics, which is why I ended up going to Vic because it was near Parliament. And doing politics there I thought that I would maybe become something like—would you believe—a policy analyst. Thankfully I got interested in journalism, started doing stuff at Salient because I needed to build some experience to go do my journalism course. Then when I went into journalism I sort of forgot about politics and wanting to go into the press gallery, because I went and did other things. I’ve been a crime reporter, I’ve been an investigative reporter, working Hamilton. That exciting place. I used to think of [myself] as the Herald’s foreign correspondent. And it was ages and ages until I eventually came back, I’d given up on coming here. But now here I am would you believe; I still can’t believe it myself sometimes.

Were you involved in any of the youth political groups?

No I was the complete opposite, I was really apathetic. I was kind of a rugby head, drinking, normal kind of uni student, I was not interested in student politics one little bit. In fact I found some of the student politicians pretty frightening. And some of them I still see now, like Darren Hughes, and Chris Hipkins… But not me, I was the kind of guy who thought I was cool because I wore brown clothes… I was spending far too much time in my op-shop clothes to be interested in student politics.

Would you describe yourself as a ‘media personality’?

Well, yes, I guess I am. But I wouldn’t like to call myself that. I kind of realise that I am, but it was never my goal. Political reporter for TV3 was my first role in TV, so before that I was a print journalist… Becoming a TV personality was never my thing. I realise some people call me that now, but in my own heart of hearts, I’m a journalist, I’m a journo… If I looked at a list of reasons why I do my job, being a TV personality would be really down quite low. But chasing stories and finding out things that people don’t want you to know, and communicating with people and just telling stories would be really high. The fame side would be really down low, with things I don’t really enjoy. Probably above or equal to wearing a suit and tie everyday, which is something that I don’t really like doing either.

How have you found the difference in political reporting from print to TV?

It was a massive change. I always said that in print it’s like working with a scalpel, because you can really get into the nitty-gritty, and you can be really specialised and direct. And you can work with complex issues really easily. In TV you’ve got to drop the scalpel, and they hand you an axe. It can be really effective to use, but it’s nowhere near as delicate as working in print. It’s funny when you look back, because I really wanted to be a long-form journalist. But here I am, as you guys say, a ‘TV personality’. What happened?

Have you got a different way of going about stories for TV, do you feel you have more weight to throw around?

I don’t like to think of it that way… No journalist should ever get into the job because they want power or influence or anything like that. It’s not about that, and if you’re in it for that you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Ultimately what journalism is about in here, and anywhere else, is about responsibility. It’s not about power.

Do you think you yourself have always been responsible?

Yep, absolutely. I have no real regrets. Journalism is a real human thing, no one is perfect. It’s a craft, and you’re up against all sorts of different pressures. And at the end of the day you’ve got to get it right. But at the end of the day, I’m here for the right reasons. I wouldn’t go through the stuff that I do every day if I was here because I wanted to be a personality or something, it wouldn’t be worth it. What motivates me is doing the right thing, my core journalistic values and stuff like that. And that includes being responsible and ethical, and accurate all the time. And I really do sleep easy at night because I know that I’m doing the right thing here, and if ever I felt that I wasn’t, I would just get out of it and go do something else. I really do in my 15 years of journalism have no real regrets. But at the same time you’ve always got to reflect on what you’re doing… because I have got a big responsibility… all the experience I’ve got, I’ve got a duty to use it properly.

During the time that you’ve been involved in political coverage, how do you think the types of stories the press gallery is covering has changed?

In the last five years or so I don’t think it’s changed a lot. And it’s funny… the criticisms of the press gallery, that they are hunting as a pack, too focussed on the game and not policy, and stuff like that… I mean I seem to remember those before I got into journalism. And I think the criticisms—despite all the technological changes that have happened in the last five years—were the same. I don’t think things have changed a lot since I’ve been here. I don’t think it’s become any more or any less aggressive. It’s stayed pretty constant… But it’s funny, when I came in here there was no such thing as Twitter. And now Twitter is obviously pretty big, as we’ve seen by some recent events… [laughs] …it’s having some effect and stuff… Contrary to some commentators, I don’t think things have got any more aggressive in here or there’s been any less focus or whatever. I think some of those criticisms are valid, and we should always be listening to what people are thinking, but it’s pretty much stayed the same since I’ve been here.

Have the kinds of stories that people are interested in changed over the years? Are people more interested in the personality stories, like the Aaron Gilmores and the Brendan Horans?

It’s hard to say, but of course they are. The world has become—and the media—has become much more interesting than it was, say, 30 years ago… Attention spans have changed, the way that people access that information has changed, and it’s just changing every day, [using] smart phones on the bus home. And people probably do want a bit more personality, but at the same time they still want to know and need to know what’s going on around this place. I think that the personality-politics side of thing is not taking over the more other important things by any stretch. These are just little zits that are popping up from time to time.

Do you think there’s too much focus on game over policy at the moment?

That’s the real crux of things, isn’t it, it’s a really interesting issue. Because say for instance last night, I did a story on loan-to-value ratios that are set by the Reserve Bank which would affect the amount of money people have to save up before they get a mortgage. It’s a really really big issue. It’s all about people getting into their first homes, whether they’ll be able to do it, whether young people will ever be able to buy a house in Auckland. It’s critical to the Kiwi way of life, it’s huge. And people are interested, but it doesn’t get the explosive attention from the public that stories like Aaron Gilmore do…

The media is a funny thing in some senses, you can do stories that are really relevant to the way people live, and the policies and stuff, and then the game can get interesting and even turn into a bit of a circus, and that’s what people tune into. And as a journalist it’s quite often you’re like, “Oh, why aren’t you watching my stories on loan-to-value ratios?”, and it’s kind of frustrating sometimes. Because for me, the Aaron Gilmore thing was not a big deal, it was festering for a few days, but it’s not something at the end of the year that I sit back and go, “Oh great, the Aaron Gilmore story”—that’s not one of the highlights of the year for me. But it is something that the public get interested in, and it brings up questions whether we should be focussing more on policy… [But] the public like it when it gets exciting sometimes, it’s a tricky balance.

Sometimes we’re misunderstood, the press-gallery journalists. What I was getting at with the housing policy story before, is that we do do policy stuff all the time, and people don’t really notice. We could go down and print out a massive list of stories I’ve done this year, on asset sales, minimum wage, youth minimum wage, retirement age, stories on taxes—we really do do them. But the things that flare up and put politics in the public eye are usually issues to do with the game. Rogue MPs and stories that have a slightly sensational side to them, and they do show up more than my loan-to-value ratio of last night. Which I’m getting increasingly bitter about that people haven’t noticed.

…Everyone has a responsibility with that. So, we could ignore Aaron Gilmore or Richard Prosser or whatever, and go down and cover a Select Committee, but the public wouldn’t watch it, and in bigger numbers either. And it’s kind of like a sort of chicken-and-the-egg thing, what comes first there too. And everyone, the journalists, the producers, the networks, and the viewers and the readers have a responsibility. If they didn’t like it, we’d stop doing it.

Last year I was in America for their election campaign. Man, things are fucked over there. If we think we’ve got problems here with too much horse race, or too much game, or whatever, in their election campaign I was there for the last ten days, and they did not talk about—and this is not a word of a lie—you could not get any gauge from watching it of what the policies were or what the policy differences were. There was no discussion of policy whatsoever. There was plenty of Hollywood shows and big speeches each day, with rockstars beforehand, and incredible rhetoric by both candidates, and wall-to-wall coverage, and polls, and everything else. But if you wanted to find a policy difference… you just really couldn’t identify anything.

I know that next year there will be much more focus on policy in election year during the election campaign. We do stories comparing policies and everything. I think people are pretty well up on things by the time election day rolls round, the differences in the sides.

Do you think New Zealand is heading in that same direction?

I really don’t think we are. I don’t think that the public wants something like that. We do get pushback from the public when we go too far on things here, and I just cannot see a time… The race here is far more presidential than it has been at each election, yes there’s more need for big impact during election campaigns. Will we see an election campaign where we’ve just got two candidates banging on, saying the same thing day after day, and not engaging with the media? Nah. Not in my lifetime I don’t think. Especially with this political system, MMP. America likes to think it’s the home of democracy, but it’s just not. I don’t think the New Zealand public would take it, they’re just not that apathetic… You’ve got half the country not voting over there. We had a low turnout last time, but nothing like over there. I don’t think we’re on some slippery slope to American politics, and actually it’s my job to make sure we’re not. But it’s also my job to get people interested in politics, and sometimes that means taking the piss out of these guys. Sometimes what happens around here is ridiculous and entertaining, and why shouldn’t it be?

Low voter turnout is particularly high amongst youth—if the media has a responsibility to get people interested, are they failing when it comes to youth?

Well that’s a good question. Why aren’t the young people getting out and voting? Is it because we’re not here doing really worthy stories about boring but significant things? I don’t think that would get more people out to vote, I really really don’t. But at the same time do they look at this place and think it’s a crazy place with people running round with suits and ties on? Because that’s not necessarily going to encourage people to vote or not. Like at the last election I did lots of stories on the youth minimum wage… because I thought it was important to do stories about young people… We’ve all got a responsibility to just keep politics alive, interesting, relevant, so that young people do what they need to do—which is get out there and vote and have their say… It’s a no-brainer that we have to find ways to get them interested in politics, full stop. It’s for the good of society, it’s for the good of everyone involved. So please watch guys!

When we asked our readers if they had any questions, the VicLabour President asked: “Why are you such a… C-word?”

Did he say a ‘G’ in front of the ‘C’?

There was no ‘G’ in front of the ‘C’.

Gutted! No ‘G’ in front of the ‘C’!

Does the flak you get in the Twittersphere from all the hacks and such get to you?

It sort of does and it sort of doesn’t. What you do find when you’re doing a story, if it’s on the right and when they’re in the gun, you get a lot of flak from people on the right. When you’re doing a story about the left, you get a similar amount from them. And what’s good about it—and keep it coming guys—is that people are engaging. And yup, I’m reading it all, and some of it’s pretty bad, and some of them have valid points and stuff as well. But what’s good is that people are passionate about their politics and their side of the team and where they want New Zealand to go. And that is part of the job, if people weren’t doing that I’d be really worried because it would show that they’re not interested. So keep it coming guys. I usually cope by mowing the lawns, but it’s been really wet lately. So it’s been a tough winter with all these Labour guys.

Are the left or right meaner?

They are both as mean as each other. And they say similar things, and sometimes they both criticise me on a story for different reasons. That’s when things get really confusing… My wife sometimes sees it and is horrified. But I can’t stand up here and dish it out if I couldn’t take it.

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About the Author ()

Molly McCarthy and Stella Blake-Kelly are Salient Co-Editors for 2013, AKA Salient Babes.

Comments (2)

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  1. Cameron says:

    Hey guys where is the full version of this story- as promised in the mag. Cheers.

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