Black Jack’s Pacific revolution, soft journalism and Annabel Crabb

Dear Annabel:

I note you have a problem with email.  That’s understandable. Thought I’d drop you a Twitter link to this though, in case you’re feeling beset.,, again.   Some stuff will probably keep coming at you.

It’s about soft TV interviews in politics. You’ll probably not be surprised to find that the “issue” — if that’s what it is — is not new.

Back a few years before you were born <sigh> (we’re talking B&W TV here) I had the opportunity to interview Deputy PM “Black Jack” McEwen for a Ch-7 current affairs program.  A notoriously dour character, McEwen had agreed to a half-hour filmed interview on his farm in Stanhope, Vic.  And he’d even agreed that that could happen in the middle of the farm’s junk yard, where he’d cobbled together all manner and shapes of leftover materials to fashion a Heath Robinson machine for clearing irrigation canals. (The “Stanhope Monster”).

For this “soft” interview, I read almost every book and press clipping I could find.  I setttled on a general approach of gathering together many of things that had been written about him and giving him a chance to confirm or deny the written records. It turned out to be a fairly productive approach.   Then, at one point, I said I’d read he had entered politics with a keen interest in international affairs, and that not many people knew that at one point, in 1940, he had served briefly as Minister for External Affairs. …..  What did he see as his main achievements in that time?

He paused.

“Starting a revolution in New Caledonia…” was the start of the response, which spelled out a war-time exploit to block Japanese from establishing a base within easy reach of the Australian mainland, and ended with the conjecture that he believed that members of the overthrown Vichy government of New Caledonia had been dropped off on a beach in Indo China.

Sometimes soft interviews produce sheer gold.

But hard or soft, there is no substitute for a two-fold approach:

  • prior homework on the person and the topic; and
  • an ability to listen to, hear, and respond to what is said in the interview.

There are always going to be surprises if you take the soft approach, more often than in hard interviews, where the “talking points” from the subject tend to overrule everything.   It’s usually easier to be able to listen and respond to the surprises if you’re not fixed on asking another pre-prepared “hard” question that ignores what the interviewee just said.

Keep it up.    It’s been good stuff.


About petermaus

Former journalist, political and current affairs reporter/producer. Former media adviser to ALP and later Senior Adviser to Federal Minister. More recently, 20 years as technical writer in the computer industry, so entitled to claim to have demonstrated evidence of true penitence.
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