In a fit of pique over criticisms made on this site of his interviewing style, Sean Plunket has made a rather unpleasant and, more importantly, uninformed, inaccurate and not entirely truthful attack on the media training which Judy and I have been providing to people in New Zealand public life for more than two decades. In a column titled “Frivolous spending, overzealous fines” in yesterdays Dominion Post, he presents himself as a civic-minded Wellingtonian concerned about unreasonable parking fines and the irresponsible spending of ratepayers’ money by Mayor Celia Wade-Brown on a trip to Auckland for media training by Callingham and Edwards.
Mr Plunket would have preferred the Mayor not to have “burned precious fossil fuel flying to another city for the training when any number of media trainers here could have done the job as well if not better.” While his concern for the environment is admirable, he may well have been thinking about himself as one of that number, since media training has been, and may well still be, a decent little earner for him. He has been, and may well still be, one of our competitors. In the column he accuses Judy and me of having “a rather last-century view of the media interview as a battle of egos rather than a forum for the extraction and dissemination of information important to the public.”
The wonderful irony of this assessment is that it is an almost word for word description of the attitude to the interviewer’s job that I have accused him and other interviewers of his stripe of having. In several posts on this site I have quoted the doyen of British interviewers, Sir Robin Day’s 10-point Code for Television Interviewers. Points 9 and 10 could have been written specifically about and for Sean Plunket: “He should press his questions firmly and persistently, but not tediously, offensively, or merely in order to sound tough. “He should remember that a television interviewer is not employed as a debater, prosecutor, inquisitor, psychiatrist or third-degree expert, but as a journalist seeking information on behalf of the public.” Plunket, who has of course never attended one of our media training sessions, goes on to say:
“Their approach seems to be that it doesn’t matter if you answer the questions as long as you win the interview.” That is of course an outright lie. In all of our teaching and writing on handling media interviews our first principle has always been: Be straightforward, tell the truth, admit your mistakes. Less politely put: Fuck up? Front up! Fess up! But perhaps more surprising than what he has to say about us, is what he has to say about the Wellington mayor: “After my last radio interview with Ms Wade-Brown on Newstalk ZB, I remarked to my producer that I thought she had been media-trained, probably by Edwards… She just seemed more, well, I hate to say it Brian, fake.” Oh come on, Sean, you just loved saying it. But this does set an interesting precedent for radio and television interviewers: after the interview publicly criticise the guest’s performance. So perhaps we can look forward to, “Well, that was Minister X. That guy couldn’t lie straight in bed!” Or, “Thanks Opposition spokesman Y. Boy, has he had a charisma bypass!”
But Plunket’s main gripe seems to be the waste of money sending someone to Auckland for one of our highly priced media-training sessions. Well, just for the record, a half-day course for one person costs $2,900 + GST, which includes the hire of a broadcast quality, fully crewed television studio complex. It does sound a lot, but here are a couple of questions which I’d like Sean to answer: Have you ever charged clients $10,000 for a one day media-training session? Were you at that time employed as a current-affairs interviewer on National Radio’s Morning Report? Did you interview those clients on Morning Report on several occasions both before and after their media training session with you? Do you see any conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest in media-training people whom you are also paid to interview on radio or television? How many clients of yours would have fallen into this category?
I actually already know the answer to most of these questions, Sean, since one of those clients came to us to be re-trained. But Dominion Post readers, your current radio and television audiences, the people who follow your blog and, well, Judy and I might like the answers from the horse’s mouth. Oh, and just one more thing: immediately after your interview with Celia Wade-Brown on June 28 (one week after her training with us), in which you now say she sounded “fake”, did you not tell your listeners: “I actually thought the mayor sounded somewhat more positive and onto it than she has since taking office. I don’t know if something’s changed in her life, but I thought she was incredibly competent this morning, if I could hand out that wee bouquet.”