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. The speakers are usually eminent media types with the occasional wild card thrown in. Last time the guest speaker was Pam Corkery. This time, Friday 1 May, it was a proper journalist, Paula Penfold of TV3’s 3rd Degree.
The students get to mingle with big-name media types and newsmakers: most tables have one or two students who get to meet industry veterans. It’s a brilliant idea and I have always enjoyed talking with them and doing my best to discourage them from entering the profession, suggesting they instead do something either useful or lucrative.
My table was all politicians and media but we played nicely: Labour MP Jacinda Ardern, her electorate person Barbara Ward, the Act Party’s Jamie Whyte (whose name-tag said “Former politician”), the Herald’s Toby Manhire and Matt Nippert, and Metro/National Radio’s David Slack whose name-tag, like mine, said “Satirist” in quote marks. Perhaps the description was sarcastic, or even satirical.
I said to Jacinda, “You’re reading my book.” I knew this because on Twitter she called New Zealand’s Gift to the World: the Youth Justice Family Group Conference “brilliant”.
She said, “Yes. I’m two thirds of the way through and haven’t found any grammatical or spelling mistakes.” She smiled. “Yet.”
Scattered about the room were other celebrities: Jeremy Wells, Radio Hauraki’s answer to Mike Hosking; Bevan Chuang, whose name-tag read “Princess of chaos”; a past and the present editor of the Waikato Times; Jarrod Gilbert, award-winning author of Patched; cow-painter Joshua Drummond; Mark Lundy supporter Geoff Levick; and someone from National Business Review. As always, the food and wine was excellent.
Steve Braunias kicked off proceedings in typically challenging fashion: “Why did you come here?” I could answer that: because it’s a free lunch with journalists, famous people and wine. But no, he thought there was more to it. He got stuck into “the cult of Glucina or Seven fucking Sharp. We are all here because we’re refugees from a culture that has chosen stupidity as a way of life.” He went on to abuse Mike Hosking and Paul Henry, then bellowed, “Please make a stand for the intelligence of everyday New Zealanders and say to [John] Key and [Julie] Christie and all those in command of this epoch of dumb: Nah!”
There was a rousing chorus of “Nah!” from all present.
And so to the speaker, Paula Penfold from TV3’s 3rd Degree, whom Braunias introduced as “Mrs Brown Jesus” because she is married to Mike McRoberts. She is a local girl, she said: comes from Hamilton, rowed for Hamilton Rowing Club, started out in student radio at Waikato University.
She was here to talk about her work that helped free Teina Pora, who served more than 21 years in prison for the 1992 murder of Susan Burdett. The Privy Council quashed the conviction in March.
She started by crediting Mike White of North & South for the Mark Lundy retrial, Donna Chisholm for David Dougherty being released from jail and Pat Booth for the Arthur Allan Thomas pardon. The point was: dogged journalists can make a difference. She also gave credit to her producer for the Pora reports, Eugene Bingham, “the best investigative journalist I know”. Both Bingham and Penfold are former police reporters. Perhaps this is a clue for journalism students.
This was the first multimedia Wintec Press Club address: she played clips from an early report on the case, and the interview tapes that the prosecution case rested on. They were devastating. Appalling. The other essential bit of her speech was a version of this:
“We first met Teina Pora in a car, parked in some side lane off Queen Street, in the rain. He sat in the front seat, us in the back, and we listened, captivated. This was not the monosyllabic teenager we’d seen in those police interviews from all those years ago. This was a man now in his late 30s, tired of prison, desperate to have his innocence heard. The outside world was a wondrous place to him. He’d seen the Sky Tower.”
It was a great example of what dogged journalism – she was clear about the hours and weeks of tedium involved – can achieve. It’s not glamorous.
She ended with a big promo for her new show 3D (I think) on 24 May on TV3, featuring the first interview with Pora since his release.
Then came the Q&A session. First up was Jacinda Ardern, then the somebody from NBR followed by a man with a beard, a student, David Fisher from the Herald, Jamie Whyte and the somebody from NBR again.
Some questions I didn’t understand, for example this from the Herald’s Matt Nippert: “You want the get, but what’s the best way forward?”
Paula Penfold was very upbeat in her responses: “That’s a good question!” she said. Then, “Gosh there’s a lot of good questions today.”
After a standing ovation for the speaker, Braunias wrapped up with a harangue about the dire state of political reporting as against the rude health of crime reporting. Then he suggested that we all repair to the bar. I made my excuses and left.
On 10 May the Herald on Sunday devoted a whole quarter page to photos from the event. This is how glamorous the Wintec Press Club has become: Bevan Chuang posted it on Instagram.
I am still a bit bothered by those quote marks around “Satirist” on my name-tag. Ironic? Sarcastic? Satirical? So here is King Crimson live in 2000 with a David Bowie song with a similarly baffling use of quote marks: “Heroes”: