Media commentator and blogger Russell Brown has had only one brief office job in 25 years — which is just the way he likes it. The father of two sons with Asperger’s, he fronts Media Take, which begins on Maori Television next week.
1. What kind of child were you?
Bright. I was always bright. I had bronchial issues for most of my childhood which meant quite a bit of time off school and I liked that, sitting around reading books and comics. I would occasionally annoy my teachers by correcting them. No, not a pompous little prick but I was aware I was bright and school didn't seem too much trouble which meant I possibly didn't try hard enough. I had one sister, two years younger than me, who died last year from a recurrence of breast cancer. It was terrible. It brought home to me that it was going to be me that has to bury my mum.
2. You were an early internet adopter: what has been the best of that for you?
I started Hard News as a radio commentary in 1991 then posted it online from about 1993. The internet's potential for global communication and research was amazing to me. I haven't had many proper jobs, always worked at home, and suddenly I realised that I had access to the kind of resources that were previously only available if you worked inside large organisations. That was really valuable for us when our eldest son was diagnosed as Asperger's. He was nearly 5 and the kindy thought he had trouble processing information. A woman from Special Education came around and said 'he's got Asperger's Syndrome' then left the house without telling us anything about it. Within 10 minutes of searching it online - and this was way before Google - I'd found a family support site and it all just fell into place.
3. You've been open about both your sons' Asperger's diagnoses: is that fair to them?
My younger son doesn't like me talking about him and the older one can talk for himself now but years ago [writer] David Cohen [who has a son on the autism spectrum] told me I should use my profile to raise awareness of it. Am I on the spectrum? Well, there's a hereditary element to it which no one really understands and I think that's the question every parent asks themselves. I don't think I am though I suspect I've got an attention deficit disorder to some extent, which I don't regard as a disability. It helps me process information quickly.
4. Has it been difficult having two children on the spectrum?
They're adults now and it can be really hard seeing your friends send their teenagers off into the world and those kids going and doing things and you are still there being a parent. People on the spectrum are late bloomers and it takes them longer to get their heads above it. The hardest years are absolutely past. We had two or three years of our younger boy having at least one autistic meltdown a day. I don't know how we got through it. It was a massive source of stress. Pulling him out of school helped. Home-schooling would be overstating the case - we did our best.
5. What did you want to do after leaving school?
I always had ideas about being a journalist, romantic ones. I imagined sitting poolside at hotels in interesting parts of the world. I was one of the last cadets, at the Christchurch Star. As the most junior reporter I would be sent out to interview diamond wedding anniversary couples. I was the only journalist to miss the '81 Springbok tour as I had to sit in the office listening to the radio in case we missed anything. After a year in the Timaru office I decided to go and deputy-edit Rip It Up magazine instead.
6. What, in your opinion, is the best and worst of media in New Zealand today?
I admire the investigative journalists - Fisher, Savage, Kitchin, Hager. And I have the utmost respect for the way Campbell Live stays with important, unfashionable stories. The worst of the media, sadly, is probably to be found in the comments sections.
7. Why has your TV media show found it so hard to find a home, do you think?
Not because no one watched! Media7 ended because its channel did. Media3 found an audience of 60,000 to 70,000 viewers weekly, but it didn't attract enough viewers in the target demographic that commercial television needs. That's life.
8. Should Cameron Slater be afforded journalist protections, in your opinion?
In principle, yes. In practice, his actions can be appalling, in my opinion. Let's just say case-by-case on that one.
9. What gives you the right to criticise media?
I don't know what gives anyone the right to do anything. I lived in London for five years and I think that was a big part of me developing my interest in media and politics. I certainly get things wrong sometimes, and I'm always more than happy to say when I do. There are times I wish I'd been more measured. What am I most intolerant of? Smug people who don't know how good they've got it. Yeah, sometimes I'm accused of being smug and maybe I have been. It's one way of dealing with the trolls and angry people, to patronise them.
10. You've written about music for many years - is there a danger in being an old pop music fan?
I always call to mind [British writer] Julie Burchill's comment about the inherent sadness of a 40-year-old man enthusing about this week's 7-inch single. That was an incentive to getting out of being a music journalist. But I like it. I still go and see bands. I'm used to being the oldest person in the room at 51. But I'm there to see the music and also for people watching. I like seeing what's happening. Music is my heritage, the cultural community I grew up with, but it's also the thing that keeps me in touch with the new.
11. You're a left-wing blogger: how will the Labour Party fare in the next election, in your opinion?
Everyone knows I'm a tribal Labour voter but I'm not a member of any political party and have no wish to be. I'm a centre-left liberal but I have some fairly significant disagreements with people on the left side of things, like on free trade and the whole discussion around mining. As things stand, I don't think [Labour] are going to do very well. But we'll see.
12. What is love to you?
It's more than one thing: the sheer thrill of passion, my bond with my closest friends, but ultimately, for me, the bonds of family.
• Media Take begins on Maori TV on July 1, 10.25pm.