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September 14, 2009 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Simon Bradwell: in jokes are acceptable

It probably helps to explain the cir­cum­stances surrounding my interview with Simon Bradwell. You may recall that there was this one time when the be­spect­acled, spiky-haired Simon Bradwell featured on Faces to Deface: The When-I-Grow-Up-I-Want-To-Be-A-TV-Journalist Edition.

So impressed was Simon about his new-found fame and glory on the hallowed pages of Salient, he tweeted about it. As aspiring young journalists, it’s normal for us to follow the tweets of our journalistic idols, whether they be Simon Bradwell, Heather du Plessis-Allan or John Campbell.

Naturally, we tweeted back at Simon. We wanted an interview. How did he really feel about featuring on Faces to Deface alongside some of his colleagues and rivals? Salient wanted to know all this, and more. It was to be hard-hitting student journalism, at its best.

I turned up to our pre-arranged interview location early. I flicked through the newspaper. I re-read my pre-prepared questions. I checked my dictaphone was working. Three times. I waited in nervous anticipation for the TVNZ news reporter to walk through the doors. And he did. At 11am on the dot.

I made my identity known by awkwardly waving at him. We shook hands and he ordered coffee. Apparently I was meant to buy him coffee. I, however, successfully used the “I’m a poor student” line.

We settled down and I began the onslaught of tough questions.

It turns out it was Simon’s destiny to one day become a journalist.

“It was basically preordained for me. It was in the blood, both my mother and my father and my grandfather were journalists, so I really had no choice but to be a journalist. We used to have family dinners and we’d be talking about what the stories were of the day, why the angle was wrong, what they could have done better. Basically I was brainwashed from the womb as a journalist.”

Joining the family journalistic dynasty was fate, really.

“I quickly realised there was only one thing I was cut out to do in life and that was journalism. [I had] the usual symptoms: very good at English at school, absolute crap at everything else at school, constantly in trouble at school, asked to leave school, all those sort of things. There was only one real career path.”

I asked him if he’d had any other career ideas. A fireman perhaps?

“Let me put it this way, when I was in form two, I started the school newspaper. So journalism geek would probably be a good description. I mean, I think I probably briefly flirted with the idea of being a cowboy, or you know, a rock and roll star or something like that, but when those options were no longer available, it left journalism.”

Simon got his start in journalism when he was accepted on to the Massey University journalism course in 1993.

“I was lucky to be accepted on that, because I’d done a bit of work for the Dominion and stuff like that. I’d done my research and put together quite a good little portfolio of stories and got on to the course.”

With journalism school out of the way, Simon began his real career in journalism at Reuters.

“My father had always given me advice that if you want to start off and develop good writing skills, agency journalism is a good place to start. There was a work experience opportunity at Reuters, and I think I was the only one who put my hand up for it… I did it and luckily that lead to a full-time job, and away I went.”

Simon spent three years at Reuters as a correspondent, before a stint at the Sunday News in Christchurch. Simon moved up to Wellington and spent time working at Stuff and again worked for the Sunday News. He then got the gig at TVNZ, where he has been for the last four and a half years.

Journalism is not always the glamorous profession it is often made out to be. It can be tough and journalists are often asked to cover emotionally draining stories. Simon considers the Coral Burrows murder case to be the toughest story he’s worked on. Coral was six years old when she was murdered by her step-father, who then dumped her body in scrub near Lake Onoke in southern Wairarapa.

“I was at the Sunday News then. It was the grimmest, most unrelentingly depressing story that I’ve ever worked on. Normally in a crime, or in a murder case or something, there’s a little glimmer of redemption; there’s been a hero who, on some small level, has tried to help, or there’s some message that’s come out of it, there’s just a small upside to it. And that Coral Burrows case, there just didn’t seem to be any. It was a poor little girl who was killed in the most vicious way, by a very disturbed individual whose own background was very depressing. All the main players in the story seemed to have their own past.

It was just a grim, grim story. It was cold in Featherston and every time we went over, locals didn’t really want to know and every time I drove out of there, I just thought thank god I’m leaving because it just was horrible.”

Conversation turned to the more light-hearted topic of student media, and what the role of magazines like Salient is in the wider media environment.

“The great advantage you guys have is that you’re not fettered by the same constrictions the mainstream media are…you basically have licence to say what you like, you can slap whatever headline you like on a story. I’m not accusing you of anything unethical but you just have a freedom that most media don’t have.

“The other great asset you have is that you can tap into what people of a certain generation genuinely care about and are passionate about, and that’s something that no other media really can. We can pretend to, we can think we do, but we have no real idea what 18-year-olds, or we have nowhere near as good idea about what 18-year-olds care about as you guys do.”

Student media’s predilection for controversy may arouse mainstream media interest, but Simon thinks there are better ways to go about things.

“If student media wants to be taken more seriously, there’s other ways of doing that, by exploring issues in a responsible but still hard-hitting and compelling way that can be drawn to mainstream media’s attention.

“But for sure, I do think the mainstream media needs to be more aware of what’s being written and what’s being said on campuses around the country.”

With the serious issues discussed, our interview fairly quickly descended into farce.

I asked Simon how he felt about appearing on Faces to Deface.

“It was an absolute honour. I was thrilled, I was pleased. It’s on the wall of the TVNZ kitchen in Wellington, and I can speak for the other TVNZ members on there, we were all delighted to have been selected.”

I clarified that the sole prerequisite to appearing on Faces to Deface was the availability of an image on Google at 11pm on Salient production night.

He asked me to explain the link between the faces that appeared in the following week’s issue. I said it was just one big fat in-joke between my friend and I. I had to apologise for stealing her idea and claiming it as my own. Simon was about to teach me a lesson.

“No in-jokes in media, there’s no place for in-jokes. You’re not writing for your friends in media, you’re writing for your audience. Lesson number one, you do stories for the viewer or the reader, not for your friends. There you go, you’re going to take something away from this that you weren’t expecting to.”

Thanks Simon. I’ll keep that piece of advice in mind.

I did ask, however, if it was normal for journalists to have a proliferation of office in-jokes. Is it just Salient or does TVNZ have in-jokes too?

“In jokes are perfectly acceptable, and in fact should be encouraged. It’s one of those things that keeps you all sane. In a very high pressure, unique, demanding environment, in-jokes are essential, a sense of humour is essential.”

What concluding words of wisdom could Simon offer to aspiring young journos?

“My advice to any aspiring young journalist is don’t be afraid to ruffle feathers. You will not be a good journalist by wanting to be popular, or be liked, or wanting to make friends.

“The moment you ask a question in a press conference or an interview, you are the most powerful person in the room, whoever you are interviewing. Always remember you have that power, you’re the one that’s running the story, running the interview. Always take a hard question to an interview, always take a hard question to a press conference, and don’t be afraid to ask it.”

Oh kia ora Simon Bradwell, kia ora.


About the Author ()

Editor for 2010, politics nerd, panda fan and three-time award-winning student journalist.

Comments (4)

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  1. Alexander Waters (in absentia) says:

    I love you Sarah Robson. Best feature writer ever. Please allow me to have your babies.

  2. Holly says:

    This is a mega-helpful and well-written article.

  3. Ro says:

    Funny, I’ve always thought Salient was a publication of in-jokes. Velociraptors?

  4. Eve says:

    Simon Bradwell is HOT!

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