An Interview with Guyon Espiner

by / May 5, 2008

When did you first become interested in politics?”
“I reckon it would go right back to the 80’s. I grew up in a household where my father was intensely interested in history and politics. It was a fascinating time because you had the tussle between Muldoon and Lange, and I remember how intensely engaged he was with that. He used to conduct these mini sort of debates around the dinner table, between me and my two brothers and my mother.

“How did you become involved in journalism?”
“Right through school, English was my big thing. I wasn’t much good with numbers, wasn’t much good with maths, and physics and chemistry, all that sort of stuff. I did an English literature degree at Canterbury University – a Bachelor of Arts – and I finished that and thought ‘well, what am I going to do with this?’, and I kind of always knew that I was going to be writing in some form. And then I, just started writing for the university magazine, and a few community papers, and just getting engaged in that way.

“What has been your most memorable moment as a political reporter so far?”
“It is hard to pick just one. There are one’s you certainly wont forget, the travel is amazing. We have just come back from China, it was quite a major event for New Zealand trade and foreign policy, and fascinating place just on the, right on the cusp of developing. That’s extraordinary. Going to the White House, when Clark met George Bush, I was so close, I could see his boots, and his Texan belt, that is quite extraordinary. Also the amazing events, watching Helen Clark take power in 1999 as a journalist – that was incredible. The 2005 cliff hanger election that was amazing, so yeah, a couple of things stand out and going to Antarctica, with Ed Hillary, in the start of 2006.”

“What is the hardest part about being a journalist?”
“There are lots of hard things about being a journalist; there are a lot of hard things about being a political journalist. Being true to your main job, which is getting the truth out, is actually very hard. You often find that you have to make some very difficult decisions. We just had to make the decision about whether we did that story on Mike Williams or not. Ultimately your job is to tell the truth. If you don’t think the public is getting the whole story, then you have to do that story. There are hard judgment calls to be made all the time. Standing by things that you say, and again it is your job to be as open as you can about what is going on, but it affects people, and it affects their chances of taking power, and they will lash back at you. And that’s difficult. So there is a lot of conflict there. So, aside from all the hours, it’s pretty gruelling, it’s pretty demanding, especially covering politics for television in an election year. They keep inventing new bulletins, and new channels for us to go on, so it’s a lot of work to do. Its hard work, but I guess the hardest thing in general is the job and being true to yourself, and being true to journalism i guess. There are so many distractions along the way”.

“You seem to be a very fair journalist, not sinking to ‘gutter tactics’, or embellishing stories to improve ratings…”
“It’s not worth doing one big story and blowing your whole career. You got to get up and face yourself each morning as well you know, that’s what I mean about the difficulty of it. You have got to both get the story, I mean there is a commercial element to it in the sense that there, I mean, you know, we are in the business of the game of being in the public and getting them to watch us, you need to sort of do that in a way that is truthful. You also need to remain true to yourself, and true to what you believe you got into it in the first place for, otherwise, there is no point”.

“Do you vote?”
“No. No, I don’t, no. which is somewhat controversial, you get into these discussions around the press gallery and a number of them, most of them do I think. There are definitely those who don’t. I don’t because I just feel it is a conflict of interest, and I find that the easiest way of dealing with that is not to vote. It’s interesting that none of the journalists who vote tell you who they vote for, and that’s their right, but I just find the easiest way to deal with it is to not vote. Independence is hard fought and I really do think I have got to the stage where I get the independence, and you’ll find I have a few enemies on either side, and a few friends on either side as well, so I don’t think you will get very many people who will claim that I am biased one way or the other”.

“What would you be doing if you were not involved in journalism?”
“I’d probably be lining up at the WINZ office. I mean I can’t think of anything else that I could actually do [laughs]. I’ve never done any other job. I did some office jobs, around the 90’s during university and stuff. I haven’t seriously contemplated anything else. Ever since I wrote my first story, I thought this is great. Yeah, so I worked in newspapers for 10 years before I got into television”.

“What are your thoughts on blogs, and the role they will play in the election?”
“It’s a really interesting development actually. It is just a quick fire, electronic opinion piece, and that sense it’s no different. But the power of them, it can be pretty explosive, and they really do have a role. I find, they’re putting extra pressure on journalists who used to rock up and write for the next days paper, and now we find ourselves wired to it just basically firing absolutely immediately after every single event. But they are very powerful, and they can have quite a role in determining how political events play out. They do have a real effect, and political parties are using them, like Kiwiblog which is really National’s. I would say they are a good thing – It is just more information, more citizen journalism. I am not so impressed by people who JUST write their opinions, everyone has got one of those, but there are some really well researched stuff”.

“What will be the outcome of the election?”
“It is always just an impossible thing to predict. I mean you’d have to, you’d have to argue that um the odds would be with National at this stage, the polls tell us that, history tells us that. I mean the last 4 term Government was Holyoake 60-72. I mean it is very rear, it is very, very rare, just like making it to 100 – it’s pretty bloody hard, its not impossible, and you’d have to argue that if there is any leader anywhere that could do it, its Helen Clark. I have written on it, and I have said it is National’s to lose. If they perform well, they should win. You know, shouldn’t they? It’s been time etc The factors are in their favour. Having said that, you have got Clark’s experience, determination, and skill, so you wouldn’t write her off. but if you were going down to the TAB, which in some countries you can do, and wanted to make some money, you would probably put your money with National”.

Your brother (Colin) is also a political reporter. Is there any animosity between the two of you?”
“He bags me on his blog every now and then, which is great and healthy. I mean it is just like the fights we used to have around the dinner table when I was 10 years old. I mean I’ve got a huge amount of respect for him, he is a very cleaver, and very good journalist. He writes a very good blog, probably the best blog!

“Who got in to political reporting first?”
“He did. He scooped me to it, yep. He’s older than me, I’m 37 so that makes him 40 just about. I kinda followed him into it I guess. He got into it very early with a job at the evening post, and has really gone from strength to strength”.

“Are you single?”
“Yes”. [Politics Editor: Giggity Giggity]

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  1. Colvin says:

    While it’s rare for a party to get a fourth term, it’s not at all rare for a party to when a fourth term after they have reached three terms. So all that very, very rare and unlikely stuff is a bit misleading Guyon (and rest of the media!).