Twelve Questions
Jennifer Dann poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Rebecca Wright

By Jennifer Dann

TV reporter Rebecca Wright dropped out of school early and didn't bother getting a journalism qualification before embarking on a stellar TV news career reporting for major shows including One News, 3 News, Campbell Live and the Paul Henry Show.
Rebecca Wright was exposed to politics from an early age with her mother working as electoral secretary to Peter Dunne. Photo / Greg Bowker
Rebecca Wright was exposed to politics from an early age with her mother working as electoral secretary to Peter Dunne. Photo / Greg Bowker

1. You're perhaps best known for your work as a TV3 political reporter. Have you always been interested in politics?

Yes. Growing up in Wellington, it's an innately political place. Mum used to be Peter Dunne's electoral secretary so he was like a family member. As a teenager I spent a lot of time at my friend Miri's house. Her dad Michael Hirschfeld was the Labour Party president. Helen Clark was over all the time and always in their kitchen. We'd be in and out but more interested in if there was any cake. I found out later they were plotting to take over the leadership around that kitchen table.

2. What were you like as a student at Wellington Girls College?

I tested the boundaries a bit. I left after sixth form and went to Australia. I was only 17. I look back now and think my parents were crazy to let me go on my own like that. My daughter's going to stay home 'til she's 21. Thankfully I met a great group of young people at the backpackers in Sydney, got a temp job and went flatting.

I did the same thing in London for four years.

3. How did you get into journalism?

I didn't go to journalism school. I'd hosted a radio show at bFM while doing a degree in politics and media at Auckland University. I found out Argentina was offering one-year working holiday visas so I went there and got a job on an English language newspaper. My boss would send me along to press conferences with people like the American Undersecretary of State and get me to ask controversial questions like, "Was Hizbollah or Iran responsible for the AMIA bombing in 1994?" Everyone would go quiet and ashen-faced but they'd have to answer because there were 100 people in the room.

4. How did you get a job at TV3 with no journalism qualifications?

I phoned Mark Jennings' secretary from Argentina to get his email address and sent him an email saying "I want to work for your network". He invited me to meet him and at the end said, "You have a very unconventional CV". I laugh about that now. I learned on the job by watching how the people around me did it. It was a baptism of fire.

5. Have you ever been embarrassed on TV?

As a baby reporter I went out to do a live cross for Anzac Day. As I left the newsroom the producer said, "Remember: it's commemorate not celebrate". Of course as soon as I got in front of the camera I said "celebrate" and this fog descended - I completely froze. I remember lying in bed when I got home thinking, "I can never, ever go back to work again." I used to take things so personally. I have a much thicker skin now.

6. You worked on TV3's Sunrise and Nightline programmes before landing a job in Parliament. What was the hardest part of working at the Beehive?

The whole place is like a pressure cooker. It took me a while to learn to hold my own. When I first started I had a National Party press secretary walk into TV3's office, put his feet up on Duncan Garner's desk and demand, "What was that piece of shit you ran last night? Who do you think you are coming down here and doing those kinds of stories?" I said, "There's no way you'd be doing this if my boss was here, this is bullying behaviour, get out." He did and that was the last time he tried it on, but it was extraordinary.

7. Do you have an ethical approach to your stories?

I believe it's crucial to be absolutely upfront with everybody about what's in the story and how it's going to play out. That way you can negotiate anything that comes up before it goes to air. I also think we have a responsibility to be incredibly careful with normal people who find themselves in the limelight for some reason beyond their control.

8. Have you ever had to 'beat up' a story to make it more exciting?

I try not to. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. My favourite example is when it emerged that Act MP David Garrett had stolen a dead baby's identity. I'll never forget the look in his eyes when he was asked the question on camera. You could see the cogs of his brain moving and then he just ran away. The other was John Palino's meltdown at his campaign launch for the Auckland mayoralty. He just saw red and was yelling at me in particular. We'd had a previous run-in. I was thinking, "This is going to be great TV, but what are you doing? You called us all here and now you've lost the plot."

9. Does the Press Gallery hunt as a pack?

I don't believe that pack mentality exists. There is a camaraderie because you spend more time with those people than you do with your own newsroom. There's sometimes an "us and them" divide because politicians have large teams working for them so it'll be them trying to hide information and us trying to find out. But I still have to put out a factually correct and balanced story.

10. You worked on TV3's Campbell Live and Paul Henry, What do you think of Paul Henry?

I count Paul as one of my friends. He's brilliant and he's kind - people don't often know that about him. I think he's extraordinary.

11. How did you meet your partner Cameron Williams?

We met on the job. We have the same sense of humour. Cam is really chilled and I'm not all the time, so there's a nice balancing there. We're not married but we do own a house and have a 1-year-old daughter so we're a modern sort of relationship.

12. Have you found it hard juggling journalism and motherhood?

I went back to work when Scarlett was 6 months old. I'm lucky because mum looks after her. The transition went really well but then you realise it's a permanent scenario. TVNZ has been really good about being flexible with shifts. Babies are a bit like breaking news, you have to do the best you can with what you've got and pretend you know what you're doing.

- NZ Herald

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