Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wintec Press Club: Pam Corkery edition

The Wintec Press Club meets for lunch three times a year in Hamilton: guests are the students of the Wintec journalism course, important media types from the Waikato and Auckland, politicians and famous sporty types. And me. The host is Steve Braunias, Editor in Residence on the course. This time the guest speaker was Pam Corkery.

The Duncan Garner edition from May is here. When Rachel Glucina was the guest speaker in August I was laid low by flu, so roped in Joshua Drummond to report. This time I was up for it. I could face Pam Corkery. Met her years ago at a mutual friend’s funeral and liked her. On the other hand, there had recently been the Internet Mana party, which was mad.

At my table were Sarah Daniell, editor of Your Weekend; David Seymour, ACT MP for Epsom, and David Bennett, National MP for Hamilton East, both of them proper MPs, none of your list rubbish; Jonathan MacKenzie editor of the Waikato Times; and two Wintec journalism students, Erin Majurey and Rich Garratt, both of whom were terrific company and were serious about journalism. Hah. They’ll learn.

In his introductory speech Steve Braunias gave a good and well-deserved kicking to the idea that there was a long-ago golden age of New Zealand journalism: in his view the golden age is arguably now, in part because the recent crops of Wintec students have been so good.

He also made several sales pitches for his new self-published book Madmen: inside the weirdest election campaign ever, which was on sale at the back of the room (“$20, Eftpos available, cash also”). It’s a nice object: small format; brilliant cover image courtesy of Joshua Drummond; and only 116 pages. So I bought a copy and one of these days I’ll get around to reading it.

Just before she was due on stage Corkery disappeared with Sarah Daniell for a crafty fag. I knew this: Braunias didn’t. A kinder person than me would have told him. He launched into his introduction but had to stop when he realised that Pam had left the building. He improvised – brilliantly, I have to say – for about 10 minutes until she deigned to take the stage. He said of her that she was “a legend, a marvel and I dig the way her mind works”.

Corkery instantly launched into a 40-minute whinge about how beastly the media had been to her during the recent election campaign, when she was press secretary or something for Internet Party leader Laila Harre. This seemed a bit rich coming from someone who is both a former journalist and a former MP, so knows exactly how this game is played. She didn’t make a lot of sense and had nothing constructive to offer by way of advice to the students. But she was very entertaining.

She talked about “puffed-up-little-shitgate”. She talked about her time working on a tabloid in Oz: “Funniest story about two twins burnt to death in a campervan I’ve ever heard.” She talked about television news: “TV One’s news is silence coloured in.”

She gave a very good impression of Russell Brown, “85 years old”, and delivered the line “Russell Brown, man of the people” as witheringly as anything said by Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey. At one point David Seymour gamely heckled: she responded with vigour.

Political reporter Tova O’Brien from 3 News was a recurring theme. I had never heard of her but Corkery certainly had. She said she txted O’Brien during the campaign: “If you can’t be honest, try lying less.”

Selected Pamquotes from my notes:
“We feast like vultures on road accidents.”
“Barry Soper, leave the field now.”
“Woodward and Bernstein, roll over in your fucking graves.”
“I don’t want to invoke Gandhi but I’m going to.”
To Labour MP Phil Twyford: “The Labour Party’s fucked. They should go condo – just sublet.”

At question time David Slack got Corkery talking about alcoholism. During her lengthy reply Braunias, at her side, ostentatiously drank a Heineken then interrupted: “Pam raises an interesting point when she refers to wallpaper.” I hadn’t noticed that she had referred to wallpaper because I had stopped listening, but Braunias went on to extol the virtues of the Ferrybank’s new wallpaper before thanking Corkery. It was a masterclass in how to close down a speaker who has begun to bore.

Earlier, in between plugs for his new book, Madmen: inside the weirdest election campaign ever (“$20, Eftpos available, cash also”), Braunias announced the winners of the annual Wintec Press Club awards. Because this is a blog of record, here they are.

Jeanette Tyrell of Sage PR put up a prize of $500 for the student who showed the most initiative. The finalists were Genie Johns, Rich Garratt, Manpreet Farrar, Brooke Bath and the winner was Erin Majurey: “She has probably broken the Wintec record for most stories published as a student journalist in one year, and many of the stories depended on her fantastic way with people and her determination to get them to talk openly and candidly.”

The Wintec Press Club best friend award went to David Slack, who apparently says nice things about the club on the radio.

The finalists for the Best Writer in NZ Award were Jeremy Wells of Radio Hauraki, for his Mike Hosking parodies; Emily Simpson, Metro magazine; Deborah Hill-Cone, NZ Herald; Matt Bowen, Waikato Times. The winner was Aimie Cronin: “Aimie’s feature work at the Waikato Times is constantly exhilarating. She’s an expressive and emotional writer who shown particular sensitivity in revealing Hamilton’s underclass. Last week’s feature about a disgraceful state housing project was a brittle masterpiece.”

Finally, Best Sentence of the Year by a Wintec journalism student: “A good sentence is a joy forever,” said Braunias, “a moment when language achieves a momentary state of grace. And the $500 cash prize means it qualifies, in a dollar per word ratio, as the richest literary prize in New Zealand and perhaps the world.” Which is probably true.

The finalists were Mereana Austin, Dave Nicoll and Manpreet Farrar: Don Rowe won with the opening line for a story about his experience in a flotation tank: “At eight words long that works out at a sweet $65 a word.” Braunias is a journalist so, as predicted by the Stratford Theory of Numbers, that amount is wrong. Then he said, I’m going to read out the entire opening paragraph because every sentence in it is audacious
Alone in the dark I left my body. It was a directionless exit. More of an expansion in all directions. Perhaps influenced by having just read a copy of the Bhagavad Gita (forced upon me by a young Hare Krishna in downtown Hamilton), I recognised an immense, blue-skinned being which materialised before me as some hybrid Hindu deity, a kind of Shiva/Krishna mashup. As in the story of Krishna, the deity opened its mouth and revealed the contents as the entire universe. . . I was halfway through my second experience in a floatation tank and I was thoroughly impressed.

Yes. For once I agree with Braunias: this may well be a golden age of journalism. Certainly, whenever I see Aimie Cronin’s or Matt Bowen’s byline in the Waikato Times I read the story, whatever its subject.

One of the pleasures of the Wintec Press Club is catching up with old and new friends from journalism. This time there were Diana Wichtel, Donna Chisholm, Bruce Ansley, Karyn Scherer. . . As I left the last meeting of the Wintec Press Club for 2014, I spied across the room the familiar figure of Steve Braunias’s mentor Jumbo Trudgeon, veteran parliamentary hack, who plays such a poignant role in the penultimate chapter, pp 101-109, of Madmen: inside the weirdest election campaign ever (“$20, Eftpos available, cash also”). 

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