I spent nearly two hours Monday on the phone - the first call was to wish my dad happy Father's Day in America. The second call was to catch up with a girlfriend in Northland.
We often phone friends and family for connection - to share a piece of our lives - joys, challenges, maybe to whinge a bit.
When I ring someone as a reporter, I'm seeking information, not commiseration. My job is asking questions, listening, taking notes and later recounting what you say accurately.
Private citizens often grant interviews to journalists about people, places and issues they're passionate about, though they don't have to. Joe Bloggs can tell me to take a long walk off a short pier.
Elected officials and people trying to get elected don't have that luxury. Anyone who represents us as ratepayers/taxpayers and those seeking political office must be prepared to face the public. Sometimes, it happens at a forum like the one held for Tauranga's future mayoral candidates on June 11.
If, after the forum, I have a question for those seven future candidates, I expect they'll answer it. (I did not report on the forum and haven't yet had occasion to contact future mayoral candidates about the election).
It sounds simple, but the notion politicos must talk to reporters is getting sucked into the cyberspace vortex. Why bother with a newspaper/radio/TV outlet when you have a website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? What if you're pals with a journo who'll toss you a heap of softballs and pat you on the back for showing up on his radio or TV show?
Those formats aren't designed to hold politicians accountable. Social media is fine for sharing cat memes, dog videos and your political platform. Don't like a comment? Delete it.
If you can't attend city council meetings and candidate forums, you need someone who'll scratch beneath the surface of a press release, ask tough questions and persevere if a politician tries to dodge or spin.
A mayoral candidate in my hometown of Spokane has been to-ing and fro-ing with news outlets, telling one she'd only respond to questions via email, declining interviews with others, then circling back to say, actually, maybe, "yes" to sit-down and phone interviews. She said initially she thought one outlet had an agenda, hence the request to answer questions via email.
Email's okay for gathering information from bureaucrats - non-elected folk who hold the keys to data and facts, or business leaders whose information is tangential, rather than integral, to a story. Email is also a last resort to grab someone about to board a long-haul flight, or disappear into the jungles of Timbuktu. I once interviewed Gareth Morgan via email while he was campaigning for his TOP party, because he said he was catching a ship to Borneo.
Face-to-face is the interview gold standard. You can watch expressions, body language and tell when someone's uncomfortable or bored. While a phone call is more impersonal, it's often necessary because of travel and time constraints. It allows for back-and-forth, for follow-up questions. It offers the chance to catch someone being themselves (though it seems many politicians never go off-script).
Email is the ugly step-cousin three-times-removed from the phone interview, especially for an elected official trying to sidestep controversy. A candidate who will only respond to media questions via email is either letting a press secretary do the talking; is scared of appearing uninformed; slow on his/her feet, or has something to hide.
A good interview is a conversation which can reveal the subject speaking off the cuff, sometimes dropping quotable breadcrumbs of ad-libbed truth. By contrast, email can be a series of carefully-crafted statements filled with ghost-written quotes.
Ideally, an elected official or candidate will know intimately issues that matter to her constituents, be clear about policy proposals and be able to string together a sentence that won't make her Year 10 English teacher grimace. We're not seeking Shakespeare; but someone smart, transparent and willing to offer a few minutes to potential future constituents via media.
How candidates campaign is predictive of how they would hold office. If you're not open with media, it's unlikely you'll be open with constituents post-election.
Local candidates and elected officials I've reached out to have been forthcoming with interviews, mostly over the phone. For that, readers and I are grateful.
But the trend of elected officials around the planet choosing favourite media outlets, tweeting policy and personnel changes and dodging difficult queries is a growing trend in our choose-your-own-adventure/pick-your-own-facts era. The world's a more expensive, dangerous and repressive place when powerful people make decisions behind closed doors, then spit-shine their stories to deflect criticism and admire their own reflections.
Independent watchdog organisation Freedom House reports media freedom has deteriorated globally the past decade in open societies and authoritarian states alike.
"Elected leaders in many democracies, who should be press freedom's staunchest defenders, have made explicit attempts to silence critical media voices and strengthen outlets that serve up favourable coverage," says a recent report.
The formula's simple: first, vilify media; then, shun outlets you don't like before jailing journalists and passing laws restricting media freedom. What used to be part of the dictator's playbook is gaining traction in democracies, too.
It's popular to pounce on perceived media bias, ie, "I won't get a fair shake because that publication is too purple/green/liberal …" How I vote is my business. How I report is yours.
I'll admit my slant as a journalist: I lean towards candidates and politicians who'll talk to me, because it means they're talking to you.
• Dawn Picken writes for the Bay of Plenty Times and tutors at Toi Ohomai. She is a former TV journalist and marketing director who lives in Pāpāmoa with her husband, two school-aged children and a dog named Ally