Working as the only woman reporter at the morning paper in the capitol of New Zealand in the ’70s offered lots of challenges. I made a lot of my own excitement, too, by tackling stories that
brought me to some places like a revue bar run by a transvestite in an era when this was illegal. Scary for a girl from Upstate New York who had never heard anything about that kind of club — or been inside a venue like that.
What if I didn’t go? Figure out how to ask the right questions? What if I didn’t come back with a story — and a good one? What was worse than going into a dank, beer-smelling smoke-filled room with some worn-out performers on a stage? Not getting the story and the right story. I had to get a crash course in the real world.
After a while at The Dominion, I thought I could propel my budding career up a few rungs. Somehow I managed to get an offer from the NZBC — the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, which was the equivalent of the BBC. It is a scary move to become a TV/radio reporter.
Have you ever thought of being on television?
I had never imagined being a performer. I thought I was God’s gift to written journalism — not the TV screen. I was not one of those gorgeous, 5’10” blondes who looked like she sauntered off a Vogue photo shoot. Not only was I a short brunette but I had the wrong accent. I had no idea what to do on TV — and I couldn’t afford to get fired. No one to rescue me. And I still wanted to make my mark as a journalist.
Fortunately, the NZBC — a good government department — taught its performers. Before I could start work, I had to go through a training program. And not by myself but with all of the new recruits. That helped spell success for me. I didn’t want anyone to be better than me, so I focused.
We spent a few weeks learning how to do pieces directly to the camera, how to do voiceovers, cutaways to make sure we had the right pictures. And in my outpost, we had to learn more. Our film (yes 16 mm film back then) was edited in Wellington. We had to hire an airplane for every TV story and edit the tape with shot notes we made in the field.
Not only did we learn all of the details of doing TV news reports but I was also going to be writing and reading the news for the local radio station. And sending stories to the radio network.
Not only could I get fired if I didn’t make the grade — but that was not just an expression. How well we did determined our pay grade. Not like American commercial broadcasting. Government departments had pay grades. We were civil servants.
Speaking directly to the camera made me shake. I couldn’t stand there reading a script. I had to look like I knew what I was talking about. I had to look right into the camera. After a few weeks of training, I was sent to Palmerston North, where I was stationed midway up the North Island.
I learned new fears there. One gripped me for years. Fear of flying. How did that happen? New Zealand has a lot of rural areas and mountains. From the center of the island, TV reporters like me had to cover stories in some isolated, uninhabited areas.