Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Wintec Press Club: Heather du Plessis-Allan edition

The Wintec Press Club lunch is held three times a year by the Wintec School of Media Arts and is hosted by Steve Braunias. The star-studded guest list always features big names in politics, media, entertainment, sport, business, law and the arts. This time they included Sasha McNeil, Matt Nippert, Hugh Sundae, David Farrier, veterans of the Waikato Times and what seemed like the entire staff of the Spin-Off website (where Braunias runs the books pages), former Speakers of the House Sir Kerry Burke and Dame Margaret Wilson, current MPs David Bennett and Tim McIndoe and the odd novelist, alongside past and present students of the Wintec media course.

The speaker is always a person of interest: this time it was Heather du Plessis-Allan, co-host of TV3’s current-affairs show Story. (Her co-host is Duncan Garner who spoke at the Wintec Press Club in May last year.)

Steve Braunias spoke at some length about the “crisis in news”, here and overseas, with reference to newsroom staff cuts and the desperation of news websites for stories that exhibit clickability. He talked about the previous speakers at these lunches, singling out November 2014’s speaker Pam Corkery as “a generally unconvincing argument for sobriety”. He handed out the 2015 Wintec Press Club awards.

There were some minor awards for Writer of the Year, Sentence of the Year and other trivia, but what everyone in the room really wanted to know was: who would win the coveted Best Friend of the Year award for “the person outside of Wintec who has provided the most outstanding support for journalism students”?

Reader, it was me. For, the citation said, my “entertaining and almost certainly libellous chronicles” of these lunches right here on this blog.

Braunias began his introduction of du Plessis-Allan by explaining, “We’re in a hurry today because as you all know Heather has a jail sentence to catch.” He insisted that the Chatham House rule applied to her talk: if she happened to call TVNZ a bunch of c***s, no one was to mention it on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or a blog. So if she did, I’m not saying. (She didn’t.)

He extolled her track record and reporting skills along the lines of the advance publicity where he wrote: “Heather’s work on the Saudi sheep scandal this year was one of the best scoops of 2015. Heather is a dogged and determined reporter – and her decision to leave TVNZ for TV3’s news roster has restored some credibility to the network after its idiotic decision to lose John Campbell.”

She began by saying, “That was really generous of you, because I know how mean you can be,” which got a laugh. But as Wittgenstein would of said, of the rest I cannot speak so thereof I must remain silent.

One thing, though: she advised the students and by implication other journalists to set up Facebook pages. She said she got “so many stories that way. People don’t email any more, just find you on Facebook.” Pro tip.

'Three more things: she was briefly rude about the Wellington thinker and Twitter disputant Giovanni Tiso, which amused the three of us in the room who had heard of him. In response to a Braunias witticism, she said, “Ha ha. Fuck you, Steve.” And later to Barry Soper, her husband, after an amusing exchange, “I’ll make it up to you later. I’ll buy you something.”

She was great: funny, full of good stories and, more important, good advice. What was really striking about her talk, and her replies to the questions afterwards, was the passion for serious journalism that came through. It must have been inspiring for the students and recent graduates present. It’s pretty dismal out there, what with all the job cuts at the big media organisations, stories from Fairfax’s print editions appearing (and staying) on the Stuff website only if they have a high click-through rating, and other depressing industry developments. It must be hard for keen young journalists to stay motivated.

On the other hand, nobody looks at Rachel Glucina’s ridiculous clickability-driven “entertainment + celebrity news” website Scout, so there is hope. Faint hope, but these days we’ll take what we can get.

So, in light of HDP-A’s possibly precarious position legally gun-wise, here is Warren Zevon live in Boston in 2000 with “Lawyers, Guns and Money”:

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