Ralston on media

Bill Ralston comments on media and interviewing tactics in an article, unsurprisingly, on media and interviewing tactics at Fairfax.

Media consultant and former news man?Bill Ralston said New Zealand had a history of confrontational interviewing dating back to the days when Sir Robert Muldoon faced off against the likes of Simon Walker and Ian Fraser.

“This has been going on for many years.”

Ralston said current journalists were not becoming more aggressive in their questioning style.

However, interviewers had to be careful not to cross the line into becoming aggressive, he said.

If an interviewer became too confrontational they would lose the co-operation of their subject and lose the audience’s backing.

“It’s seen as almost a boxing match” and the audience would inevitably pick a winner.

The controversial interview should be a “rare beast”, Ralston said. ??

“You’ve got two people in your living room having an argument, it can make you feel uncomfortable.”

If an interview subject did not answer a question, the interviewer could ask again without becoming aggressive, he said, adding that this was Espiner’s tactic during the Key interview.

“You can ask the hard questions in a way that isn’t necessarily meant to offend.”

Commenting on the Dunne standoff on Friday, Ralston said the minister was prone to losing his cool with media – something he trained spokespeople not to do.

Ralston is right and he is wrong.

I don’t think we have a history of confrontational interviewing at all. We have had rare aggressive set-ups or door-steppings, like when Rebecca Wright accosted Winston Peters or Paul Holmes attacked Denis Conner. You could argue that Tristram Clayton at Campbell Live tried that with me outside Radio Live, but that didn’t go so well for him.

I’ve been interviewed by almost all current media people with the sole exception of John Campbell. I have simply refused to entertain being interviewed by him, not because he is any good, but because he never wanted to do a live interview, always pre-records. Same with The Nation. I don’t do pre-records these days they are prone to manipulation.

I couldn’t name a single interview that I have had trouble with, even the dreadfully stupid Rachel Smalley. I smacked her up on The Nation one day, and I think it was my last ever appearance there. She has harboured a grudge ever since but never had the courage to confront me personally. Smalley struck me as someone who can only deal with what she has been briefed to deal with and so live interviews are fraught with danger. Lisa Owen isn’t much better and she thinks shrieking at people is a good interviewing technique. I’ve been put up against Brian Edwards, Chris Trotter, Bill Ralston, Duncan Garner, Patrick Gower, Sean Plunket, Guyon Espiner, Leighton Smith, Larry Williams, Mike Hosking, Paul Henry and others, but I don’t think any have ever “got” me. Usually they end up saying something along the lines of “I have to agree with Cam on that”. The Brian Edwards story is a hoot, and one day I will tell that publicly.

I don’t think we have enough argy bargy in political interviews and I put that down to the fact that most interviewers are thick, not in full command of details and working from a pre-prepared script that causes them problems when there is any deviation. I am looking to remedy this situation next year.


– Fairfax