Brian Edwards Media

Shouldn’t This Fellow Be Hosting ‘Close Up’ Every Night?

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Mike Hosking was standing in for Mark Sainsbury on last night’s Close Up. I haven’t always been a fan of Mr Hosking’s interviewing style, but each time he appears on Close Up my respect for him grows.

A useful litmus test for judging a television host or interviewer is how comfortable they make you feel watching them. If their presentation or questioning make you feel as though you’re watching an amateur high-wire walker making his debut between two New York skyscrapers in a high wind, you can be reasonably certain that the interviewer really isn’t very good and his career may  fall to earth sooner rather than later.

If, on the other hand, your sense of being in safe hands allows you to concentrate fully on the subject of the debate or interview, rather than on how the host is doing, you can be reasonably certain that you’re watching a skilled professional. This is the feeling I get with Mike Hosking – nothing is going to go wrong. 

Hosking was at his professional best last night. Not because he was grilling some hapless wrongdoer, but because of his consummate skill in handling something far more difficult, an interview with the parents of a murdered son. The potential for embarrassment in this sort of interview is considerable. A fine line has to be trod between expressing sympathy for the parents’ unthinkable loss and the journalistic imperative to seek information on behalf of the viewer. The parents must not merely be questioned, they must be emotionally supported as well, a task made all the more difficult when interviewer and interviewees are not in the same studio. Yet the interview must never become mawkish, must never exploit the parents’ grief, their tears.

Hosking treads this fine line perfectly. At every moment in the interview he is making decisions: which parent  to go to next, when to move from issues of fact to issues of feeling, whether to personally  identify with the parents’ loss (I can imagine it must be terrible… ), when to draw back, when enough is enough. He will not be making these decisions consciously. They will be the product of experience and instinct and they will not be apparent to the viewer.

If this seems like a somewhat clinical analysis of an interview that will have brought most viewers to tears, it serves to highlight the fact that great interviewing has less to do with questions than it has to do with the interviewer’s ability, often in a very short period of time, to form a relationship with his subjects that allows them and us to feel comfortable, in safe hands. And that, believe it or not, is as true of the cross-examination style of interview as it is in exploring personal tragedy.

And Jo  and Bryan Guy, whose son Scott was murdered seemingly without reason, must not go unmentioned. What a lovely couple they are. How fortunate any man would be to have such people as parents. Of them Hosking concluded, ‘Well, I don’t know where you’re getting the strength from, but I appreciate your time tonight very much.’ And they thanked him.  And he said, ‘Very brave, aren’t they, ‘Jo and Bryan Guy’. And that was right.

And, on a lighter note, have a look at Hosking interviewing  weight loss supremo, bus driver Bevan Winter, and his dietician Lea Stening. They’re not in the studio either and it’s another interviewing challenge because Bevan is more or less monosyllabic and Lea is wonderfully high-verbal. So what do you do? Well, you direct most of your questions to the high-verbal Lea of course.

Overall this was a delightful programme. As Hosking himself observed, ‘Tell you what, what a night of inspiration it’s been, eh? That’s current affairs for you.’

And I’m sorry to end on a contentious note, but shouldn’t this fellow – confident, intelligent, dryly humorous, articulate  –  really be hosting Close Up every night?

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29 Comments:

  1. I was quietly impressed with Hosking myself last night; it reminded me of what a fine journalist he can be when he’s not hosting lighter-than-air rubbish (Breakfast) or push-button snarling (talkback). Now if only he’d comb his bloody hair…

  2. Hosking beats the Walrus every time – but in saying that a few things still nag me about his image, which I think you might agree, is almost as important on TV. I don’t think he is comfortable in his skin, he was until a few years ago, a young man in an old man’s body. Now he’s a middle-aged man in young man’s clothes (and hair-do). I prefer the Hosking of old, he was being true to himself, not a stylist or A-list partner. It’s less important than interview style and intellectual substance, but it’s something I’ve wanted to express (thanks for the opportunity!). As for his skill at interviewing the parent’s of the murdered farmer, yes, it is one of the hardest interviews to pull off well because apart from the tragedy, there is very little in my opinion of value in the interview itself. Ok, you gain sympathy for the family and the way it’s handled may throw up a lead for the police – but personally I find the intrusion into the family’s grief a bit too much. At the end of the day it proves nothing and is simply entertainment for the masses. The media are using the family’s grief to sell commercials and that doesn’t sit right with me. To my reckoning, police put undue pressure on a family to make themselves available to the media. I think it’s uncool to say the least.

    • personally I find the intrusion into the family’s grief a bit too much. At the end of the day it proves nothing and is simply entertainment for the masses. The media are using the family’s grief to sell commercials and that doesn’t sit right with me. To my reckoning, police put undue pressure on a family to make themselves available to the media. I think it’s uncool to say the least.

      You’re saying a great deal here that you have no evidence for. I had no sense of ‘intrusion’ into the family’s grief. On the contrary, my impression has been that they have welcomed these opportunities to talk about their son. It may even have proved a welcome distraction from their intense grief. The mother seemed to suggest almost as much. And you also have no evidence of the police having put any pressure on the parents to front the media. As for selling commercials, that is indeed the commercial imperative of television in this country. But that does not mean that nothing that appears on television is worthwhile.

  3. I’ll always remember watching whiskers/walrus interview Sophie Elliot’s parents. I remember there was a giant pregnant pause at one point and the sound of Whiskers madly rustling his papers as he wrestled with what on earth to ask them next.

  4. The cynical part of me suggests that TVNZ’s main interest in the story was how it might increase its ratings. I doubt whether this interview served any real public interest apart from satisfying those who get a vicarious thrill out of tragedy and grief.

    I realise that nobody forced this couple to be interviewed but it would have been better not to have run the interview.

    However that is a forlorn hope since the media, and TV in particular, have to focus on the sensational because it pulls in the punters and therefore the advertising dollar.

    God forbid that I should ever such an awful tragedy as these parents have suffered, but if I ever do I shall station a couple of pit bulls outside my front door to keep the media at bay. I would be damned before I would parade my grief for a prurient audience and a ratings driven TV channel.

    • The cynical part of me suggests that TVNZ’s main interest in the story was how it might increase its ratings.

      I’m afraid I think that’s absolute nonsense. I suspect the interview was cathartic for the parents whose principal message was their pride in their son. They gave many such interviews. The publicity, including the conyact details for information would also have been helpful. The item was certainly of public interest and in the public interest. And if it served the purposes of both the parents and the broadcaster, I can find nothing wrong with that.

  5. Families generally welcome the opportunity only because it has become the thing to do after a tragedy. That really kicked in once Paul Holmes Show started in the late 1980s. It became a feature of nightly current affairs ‘journalism’. The pressure comes not simply from police suggesting it as a tactic to gain sympathy (Detective Inspector Graham Bell even acknowledged that to me way back when I was a student) but from Journalists whose job it is to get the story above all else – who couldn’t care less about the catharsis or distraction it might be to the family. The pressure from Police is implicit – “it would help with our inquiry so go ahead if you feel up to it”. It doesn’t need to be much more than that. Of course a family wouldn’t say no, but I don’t find it entertaining, and is certainly not how I would react to a similar situation – especially knowing some of the people involved in putting together television current affairs programmes such as Close-Up. I find these types of public expressions of grief distasteful even if the family do it willingly.

    • Families generally welcome the opportunity only because it has become the thing to do after a tragedy.

      It seeems to me that you are making a lot of assumptions on what families who have suffered a tragic loss either do or do not welcome. And also some rather sweeping assertions about journalists. Surprising perhaps for someone dealing with journalists all the time. Or not surprising, you might say. My read on these particular parents was that they were comfortable talking to the media and that it may have been psychologically helpful to them.

  6. Sainsbury invokes a mixture of feelings as to the role of being a leading interviewer. Part of me says his true calling lies, being at a Westfield shopping mall, 10 days out from Christmas. Supplanted in front of a camera on a tripod, with lots of excited kiddies milling around. And that’s where part of his weakness (as an interviewer), lies — he’s just too damned affable. He needs to be fazed, at times; show a bit of mongrel, and have some bark ‘n’ bite. He’s got “dog”, all right, but it consists mainly of licking his subject interviewee into submission. I read, in an earlier post, he might have been intimidated when interviewing Michael Reed, because Mr. Reed had “QC”, as a suffix. If that’s the case, Sainsie’s a lost cause.

    “Bigjed” offers an interesting take on Mike Hosking, with regard to the fastidious cultivation of his persona (getting middle-aged but dressing like he’s in his 20s). It’s a bit like an affectation — the verbal equivalent of trying to talk posh when youse been brought up, raggedy-poor.

    I know, Mike is bright. But, quite often, there are short-circuits within the neurons of his brain. We know that, because the spiked electrical impulses are conducted straight to the roots of his hair. Either, that — or, he likes to prod the electrical wall sockets, with his dinner fork.

    Sorry, but he did a big dump on his credibility, when he came out and made excuses for “Manz” and Mark Hotchin. He didn’t so much blot his copybook, as tip the contents of the ink bottle onto it.

  7. As you say on the previous blog cynicism seems to be infectious today. It is very hard not to be cynical when commenting on anything done by TVNZ.

    I will however gladly concede that if the interview was a cathartic experience for the parents then that was great and bugger TVNZ’s motives.

    I also have to concede that Mike Hoskins is a stand out interviewer. I have to say I enjoy listening to him on Newstalk ZB in the morning; he comes up with some gems and I do not get distracted by his hair. It’s a pity about the commercials that have me hurriedly flicking back to National.

  8. so a journalist scores one of these interviews – they go back to the office happy that a) they have got the interview and thus pleased their boss or b) that they in someway have helped a grieving family deal with the crisis in their lives in some fashion. I’m thinking a) and a) only. Cynical? Perhaps, but in my experience nothing matters more than filling the gaps between commercials. I wish it didn’t happen, I have no interest in seeing the parents of a dead farmer cry on National Television.

    • in my experience nothing matters more than filling the gaps between commercials. I wish it didn’t happen, I have no interest in seeing the parents of a dead farmer cry on National Television.

      In my experience sharing in other people’s tears can be quite an enriching experience. Being brought to tears in the face of someone else’s unhappiness seems to me to make us more rather than less human.

      And your argument, and that of some of the other commentators, seems to be that nothing is valuable if it earns money. By that token all work of value would have to be unpaid. Commerce, and with it modern society, would simply collapse. When you talk about journalists, remember that what they are doing is their job. Without advertising revenue, they would have no jobs.

  9. From experience, the police do not put pressure – no matter how subtle – on families to talk to the press/TV. In fact, I often found the police to be almost wilfully obstructive when trying to talk to relatives. On one occasion a cop I knew rang me and asked if I wouldn’t (and I didn’t, having experienced bitter grief first-hand myself. The reaction in the newsroom made up my mind for me to flag daily news journalism).

  10. I’ll have to take your word for it that Mike Hosking has been doing some great interviewing on TV recently. I have no idea personally, because every time I see him on TV, all I can see is That Hair. When he’s on telly, everyone present shrieks about what a bird’s nest it is – and a very messily constructed one at that. It’s so overly gelled and overly tousled that it totally gets in the way of his message.

    Women who work or appear in the media are often advised about not allowing their accessories or personal grooming to distract the viewer – such as crimson-painted talons, plunging necklines or dangly earrings (Christine Rankine famously being a case in point re the latter). Mr Hosking would do well to get a nudge as well. Ease off on that hair gel, please, so we can concentrate on you and not your ‘do!

  11. i think mark sainsbury hasn’t mastered the look of appearing very interested in the people he interviews. he doesn’t look truly involved. he looks likes he should be on the outside of the tv. our tv room is very small so there’s no room for him too -so we turn over. paul holmes, paul henry and hosking draw you into the tv. -into the issue, they involve you.

  12. Brian, appearing on live prime time telly as grief therapy? Are you taking the piss?

  13. “Shouldn’t This Fellow Be Hosting ‘Close Up’ Every Night?”
    A rhetorical question, surely?

    I have difficulty taking him seriously, when it looks like he’s climbed into the clothes dryer along with his wet clothes.

  14. I’m sorry but until Hoskings either brushes his hair or goes to decent barber and gets that mop cleaned up I will continue to find him unwatchable. That mess is disrespectful to the guests on the show and the viewer at home, which is why while finding him fine on the radio I dont believe he is the appopriate person to front a prime time television show.

  15. It’s interesting how the focus has moved from MH’s professionalism to his hair and what he wears. It rather proves what Judy said in an article a while back about the need to be careful in what one wears so that the audience does not focus on the wrong thing. Perhaps JC should be passing on the advice to MH, although I suspect he does not give a toss since I am sure he is well aware of the criticism.

    The problem with any TV interview is that the image gets in the way of the message. The eye is always stronger than the ear which is why if an interview interests me I will close my eyes so that I can absorb the message.

  16. Well, at least Hosking doesn’t come out with standard dorkish Sainbury-isms like “Well..I mean…how did you FEEL…?”
    But what about his personal standards and those of TVNZ regarding his appearance? He looks like he’s wearing a bizarre spiked wig!! This is not a ‘Country Calendar’ episode: this is Current Affairs/news. For God’s sake, can he PLEASE shave and get a damn haircut?

  17. Hell, if Dick Emery were still around, he’d be beaming, with pride. Mike Hosking is the new metrosexual “bovver boy”. Gone are the denim jacket and the Doc Martens; in its place, the untucked shirt and pixie slip-ons.

  18. bje reports that Paul Henry draws him/her in to the TV. That isn’t true for all of us!

  19. yeah – that’s true number eleven. i haven’t actually watched him in a while. he makes me laugh mostly but he has his real nasty days where he’s a prat.
    mixed bag, that one, now you mention it.

  20. Don’t mind the hair, think he is rather tasty. Liking him on Close Up. Disappointed in the Hotchkins comment though.

  21. Angelique: “Don’t mind the hair, think he is rather tasty”.

    You, really fancy Hungarian goulash?

  22. My personal experience has also been that the police will try to talk a grieving family out of talking to the media. A throwaway remark, a person’s demeanour, even the sound of their voice can influence the viewing public’s perception of them and the victim, even the impact of the crime.
    All these factors can be crucial for police investigators particularly when they are appealing for the public’s help to crack the case.

  23. Hosking has created, or his image makers have created a television personality that believes personal image is extremely important in todays mass media. He obviously thinks personal appearance image is important and thats ok if you’re into that. He does have a more fluent interviewing style than Mark Sainsbury. But Paul Henry is so right wing I’m sure he has been planted in television by ACT.

  24. I agree, Brian. Ever since Hosking fronted a Sunday morning Arts show in the late 1990’s when he conducted a series of intelligent and probing interviews, I have always believed him to be the best interviewer on NZ television. I could never understand why TVNZ had neglected this man’s obvious talent.