Twelve Questions

Sarah Daniell poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Patrick Gower

Patrick Gower starts as TV3's political editor on Monday. Earlier this month, TV3's Duncan Garner and Gower, as his deputy, won best news report at the NZ Television Awards for their coverage of the teapot tapes story. Gower, who is a former Herald reporter, is 35 and lives in Wellington.

Patrick Gower always wanted to be a journalist, a job he says he takes on with a great sense of responsibility.  Photo / Mark Mitchell
Patrick Gower always wanted to be a journalist, a job he says he takes on with a great sense of responsibility. Photo / Mark Mitchell

1. Describe your political reporting style in 140 characters.

Hard but fair. Responsible and accurate. Serious when I need to be, gutsy when I need to be, and a little bit irreverent from time to time as required. It is politics after all - you need a sense of the ridiculous.

2. What do you think when you see yourself on TV?

Bloody hell, how did I end up on there? Why is my tie never straight? And jeepers, that make-up doesn't help much, does it?

3. What did you think of the Rod Emmerson cartoon? What did it get right, and what does it feel like to "be" the story?

Rod's called me a "clubhouse lawyer" - I think that's the fella at the golf club who is the self-appointed caller of the rules. In some senses that's a political journo's role. We've got to step in and call it for the public sometimes, because if it was up to the politicians, it would always be "move on, nothing to see here ..." And that was the case with the Labour Party leadership stoush at the weekend.

They'd prefer to pretend it wasn't happening, but the voting public deserves to know if the guy David, who is gunning to be Prime Minister, isn't safe in his job because another guy called David is trying to get it. As for being in "the news", it's far from ideal, but once in a while you've got to put yourself out there to get the job done or politicians will just walk all over us. I've had my name in the Herald many times on top of stories I've written back in the day, but I never thought I'd get a mention in a cartoon. Hopefully it's the first and last time.

4. How often do you drink with politicians?

Hardly ever. I think those days of journos drinking with the politicians are long gone. Either that or the politicians don't want a bar of me - so it's probably a bit of both actually. In saying that, we had a couple with the MPs last night at Garner's farewell from Parliament. And Winston and I did go for a couple of quiets down Courtenay Place earlier this year.

5. Is this where you imagined you'd be?

I always dreamed of being a journo. An investigative journo. But this exact role, not really. I've just kind of ended up here on the broadcast and political side of things and obviously I'm loving it. When I was a newspaper journo, my Mum told me she'd thought I'd become a talkback host one day. That really horrified me, I was like "sorry Mum, no way I am doing that". She wasn't around to see me become a telly news guy; I often wonder what she'd think.

6. What are the limitations of television in what you do - and how does it excite you way beyond your wildest print imaginings?

Print journalism is brilliant - it's like you have a scalpel. You can do really delicate things with it and get into the nitty gritty. I miss that sometimes. Television is brilliant too, but it's a bit more like an axe - it can do the same job a lot quicker sometimes, but boy is it blunt. In print a politician's "no comment" is two words on paper. In telly you can show a "no comment", show the body language, the whites of the politician's eyes - it can be a whole story. I guess we need a journalistic tool that sits somewhere between the scalpel and axe - a journalistic Makita chainsaw if you like - but to my knowledge that hasn't been invented yet.

7. What role has the media had to play in driving the Labour Party shit-fight this week?

We told people what was going on. The Labour Party faithful voted in a new system to elect the leader. Fact. They were divided down the middle over how that could be triggered. Fact. The "minority trigger" that won out and the new system both favoured a challenge by David Cunliffe. Fact. Cunliffe instantly and repeatedly refused to rule out a challenge against Shearer under the new rules. Fact. This effective challenge overshadowed Shearer's speech that turned out to be his best performance so far. Fact. The old-school MPs who don't like Cunliffe moved quickly to cut him off. Fact. Even so, the leadership stoush is not over, there's clearly dissatisfaction from some MPs, from the wider party and the public with Shearer's leadership and Cunliffe could come again in the February vote. Fact.

8. How have you coped with the commentary and in some cases the vilification about your stories this week?

I guess by vilification you are talking about the blogosphere. It comes with the territory. The left-wing blogosphere are coming at me right now over my coverage of Labour's leadership "issues". I can totally understand that - people are passionate about their politics, and when it's their side in the spotlight they don't like it. It's just the same when we do stories like the teapot tapes or the GCSB spying issue, but it's the right wing blogosphere that gets fired up and comes at you. The blogs and Twitter add a new dimension to the public sphere. The passion and debate is great - keep it coming guys, I can take it. I cope by going out and mowing the lawns. They're always pretty short.

9. What singular talent will you bring to the job?

Determination. I'm determined to do the right thing, to tell people what's really going on. As press gallery journos, we are in a privileged role, we're there to ask politicians questions on behalf of people who can't - the taxpayers, the voters. With that comes a responsibility. It's not about power. Any journo who thinks it's about power should go get another job. It's all about responsibility - the responsibility to tell people what's really going on.

10. What have you learned from others before you, in terms of what you'd like to emulate and what you would never do?

My boss Duncan Garner has obviously taught me a fair bit. I doff my cap to the guy. He's a newsman in the morning when he wakes up, and he's a newsman through till when he goes to sleep - if he ever does, because I've never actually seen any proof of that. Garner is always strategising about how to get things the politicians don't want you to know into the public arena. Other journos that have influenced me, like Tony Wall, have similar attributes. Wallo has a never-say-die attitude when he's chasing a yarn too, and he never gives up. Eugene Bingham taught me the value of accuracy and going to the line but never over it. That's the great thing about journalism, it's a craft, and you learn off the best along the way. You're always improving. You see what not to do as well, but I'm not going to name names on that.

11. Gonzo style - flattered? Ambivalent? Outraged?

Flattered, I think. Any comparison to the great Hunter S. Thompson is welcomed. It is a tool in the old kit, but it's for use only from time to time. A good example is amid the chaos of the United States election. Journalism is fun, it's an adventure - that's why I love it - and it is good to get amongst it from time to time especially when, for instance, you're in the middle of a pumped-up crowd of 30,000 Republicans in Ohio four days out from election day.

12. What struck you most about the US presidential campaign and what could we learn from it?

We don't know how lucky we are. Yes, the showbiz is great, yes, the oratory is on another level, yes, celebrity endorsements and the like are fun and there is extraordinary passion. But there's no discussion of actual policy like we get in campaigns here, it's just sound bite against sound bite for days on end; the journos aren't able to get in and ask any meaningful questions on a daily basis like we can here. It is highly polarised. There's only two sides in the race, all heat and no light. The economy is wrecked. Lots of Joe and Jane Americans I spoke to were disillusioned with politics. They could do with MMP over there - now that would be interesting.

- NZ Herald

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