Greg Dixon 's Opinion

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

TV Eye: Pictures tell the story

Kiwis have been well served by our main free-to-air networks' coverage since the quake. Photo / TV3
Kiwis have been well served by our main free-to-air networks' coverage since the quake. Photo / TV3

It's been some week for New Zealand television. I'm sure I'm not alone in having spent more time, in the last 10 days, watching it than I have all year - that's the effect of quality viewing, or at least television which is irrefutably compelling.

We have been remarkably well served by both our major free-to-air networks since February 22. Their ongoing coverage of the Christchurch earthquake has certainly proved - hiccups and the occasional bum note and report aside - that both TV3 and TV One's newsrooms have been equal to the task of relaying what will certainly be the largest single news event in NZ's modern history.

It's been a real time lesson in the power of television too, the authority of live pictures. It's been unmissable.

It hasn't all been perfect, of course - how could it ever be? - and John Campbell's unnecessarily heated and frankly embarrassing interview with "moon man" Ken Ring on Monday night has certainly been the low point so far.

But in totality, TV's coverage of Christchurch's disaster, certainly its first days, has proved that local TV news is capable of so much more than the pointless live crosses and fake emotion that is so often its daily bread.

Now I'm probably out of line here. Certainly, measured against the immensity of the tragedy itself and the bloody hard yakka of all the journalists in Christchurch, it's probably poor form to single out a few for praise above their peers. But I'm going to ignore form and say this: in the first hour or so, TV3's Hamish Clark, Natasha Utting and another female TV3 journalist (whose name, shamefully, I am unable to recall) delivered raw and gripping coverage. It was coverage that, through these reporters' own shock, bewilderment and professionalism, communicated what it meant to be in that place at that time. It was real, it was human and it was extraordinarily restrained considering the extraordinarily unrestrained circumstances.

I have one other thing to say about them, to TV3's news chief Mark Jennings: give the buggers a pay rise.

This is not, of course - and I add hastily - to undercut TV One's contribution. From what I have seen of it, it has been as good as (and sometimes better than) its arch rival. But, for what it is worth, we ought to praise these three from 3 in particular for their sterling work in that first strange and awful hour.

Now I'm probably out of line here, too. But by the weekend - was I alone in this? - I was looking to fill my head with something other than the appalling bad luck of our second city.

It is unconscionably naff to say it, but it was a relief to find Mother Nature's other face - or at least her more photogenic face - there on Prime TV's new nature programme Life on Sunday night. This 10-part BBC series looks to be another masterwork in the genre by Britain's state broadcaster, and not just because it's narrated by the god of this sort of television, Sir David Attenborough.

Taking us from Florida to Madagascar to Antarctica to Zambia and beyond, the first episode was yet another examination of what animals and plants do to live, survive and pass on their genes, and in the coming weeks it will move, broadly, through the species. Seen it before? Well no. It's the quality, the precision and the cleverness of the filming of Life that takes the breath away. From the three cheetahs hunting an ostrich on the Kenyan plains, to a tiny Costa Rican poison arrow frog (it's the size of a fingernail) climbing high into the treetops to deliver its tadpoles into the tiny pools in high bromeliads, it nimbly moves its storytelling from large-scale action to tiny kitchen sink drama while Attenborough succinctly tells us what it might mean. "There is," he said, in a comment that seemed to sum up the week, "an element of chance in life that an individual can do little about ... For every creature, every day is full of challenges, all of which must be overcome somehow in order to survive."


- NZ Herald

Greg Dixon

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

It has been said the only qualities essential for real success in journalism are a rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability. Despite having none of these things, Canvas deputy editor Greg Dixon has spent more than 20 years working as a journalist for the New Zealand Herald and North & South and Metro magazines. Although it has been rumoured that he embarked on his journalism career as the result of a lost bet, the truth is that although he was obsessed by the boy reporter Tintin as a child, he originally intended to be an accountant. Instead, after a long but at times spectacularly bad stint at university involving two different institutions, a year as a studio radio programme director and a still uncompleted degree, he fell into journalism, a decision his mother has only recently come to terms with. A graduate of the Auckland Institute of Technology (now AUT) journalism school, he was hired by the Herald on graduation in 1992 and spent the next eight years demonstrating little talent for daily news, some for television reviewing and a passable aptitude for long-form feature writing. Before returning to the Herald in 2008 to take up his present role, he spent three years as a freelance, three as a senior feature writer at Metro and one as a staff writer at North & South. As deputy editor of Canvas, his main responsibility is applauding the decisions of the editor, Michele Crawshaw. However he prefers to spend his time interviewing interesting people -- a career highlight was a confusing 15-minute phone interview with a stoned Anna Nicole Smith -- and pretending to understand what they're going on about. He has won awards for his writing and editing, but would have preferred a pay rise.

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