George Davis | Don't wait till your hairs are grey
I was months out of the University of Technology in 2005 when the Nationwide supremo Cliff Hughes told me in a direct reasoning session that journalists, wherever they work in the world, do not begin to get real respect from their various publics until the hair on their head starts greying.
I am still processing that thought 13 years later to see whether the gentleman was indeed right.
Thinking about all those I grew up listening to, reading and watching, I can say there were several who did not have greying or grey heads who earned my respect. But at the same time, there were several others, far more than were in the former group, for whom I had the utmost regard.
The point he was making was that a greying head conveyed experience, authority, maturity and trust. From a straight numbers perspective, and given my own experience moving from being a sapling in this vocation to a fruit-bearing tree, I can say that Cliff is right.
I mention the issue of greying heads and its intersect with respect in the field of journalism as I seek to understand why so many of our practitioners today are intimidated, and allow themselves to be cowed by persons in political leadership.
Witness the interaction at any post-Cabinet press briefing, press briefing with a member of Cabinet, press briefing hosted by the Opposition, or interview with an opposition shadow minister. Most of the journalists at these events are young people, many of whom would not have been operating at this level for any significant time. All will be fine if the questions posed by the journalists are of the kind delivered in a game of softball, but watch the mood change if the questions are akin to probing, high-class fast bowling.
The first sign of pressure will come from someone representative of either the Government or Opposition, asking if the journalist was sent to the press conference by the 'other side'. If the journalist persists, the angst will move to the head table, where the person being questioned then shows visible signs of anger and exasperation.
At any given moment, the D-word will be used - disrespect. This word is trumped for whenever journalists persist with a line of questioning that those hosting the press conference find uncomfortable.
Journalist are then made to feel as if they are disrespecting their hosts by simply remaining resolute in their push for a credible answer. This situation is an illustration of the respect dynamic at play in these press events, where the political leaders clearly believe they are deserving of far more respect from journalists than they are willing to give to these professionals.
Worse still is if in a one-on-one interview, a journalist puts a question to a political leader that is a direct rebuttal to a line being carried by that politician's party. Because of a lack of respect, the politician, rather than address the question, perhaps with a rebuttal of his own, cries foul and accuses the journalist of pushing an argument crafted by the 'other side'.
In my experience, these things happen mainly to young or youthful journalists and are rarely applied to those professionals with grey heads or who are established in the vocation.
I say to the army of young, ambitious journalists representing media houses all over this land, do your research before you conduct interviews. Maintain your composure under the pressure from the bramble lying on the sidelines at press conferences.
Treat your interview subject with courtesy and respect their office. But never be deferential, never allow yourself to be cowed, and let the quality of your work force them to give you due regard, even if you do not yet have iron in your hair.