Interview - Derryn Hinch

Interview: Derryn Hinch, by Greg Tingle: 19th January 2003

Why, when and how did you break into the journalism and the media business?

I lived next door to the news editor of the Taranaki Herald in New Zealand. Used to cut his lawns and steal his home brew. Organised an interview with the editor and got the job. I was fifteen and good at English if not much else.

What mentors, if any, did you have?

No mentors or heroes. Although a female Chief Sub at the Taranaki Herald, a wonderful dwarf named June Litmann, used to pay attention to my copy. She said. Later it was because I would query her after a story appeared with my copy changed. She figured I was serious about this business.

What is the wisest piece of advice you have ever been given?

I guess not to lie. We've all been guilty of white lies but not to lie in print or on air. Being honest you need a less complicated mind. And less of a memory.

Over the span of your career you have needed to be very "thick skinned", and have held your ground on a number of stories. Is your strong determination something you were born with, or did you acquire it, as a result of the media business?

Not born with it. There were a few things I did in tabloid journalism as a teenager when the story was the only thing that I am not proud of. I think I developed a personal moral code and a determination I have not wavered from when I was in my twenties and living in New York and reading some great columnists and crusaders in the New York Times and the Washington Post. And I was able to use some of those beliefs when I revamped and cleaned up the Sydney Sun. And got rid of the Page Three " birds".

ng from the Australian public?

Lost this question. Think it was about lying. You don't. Truth should be a total defense to defamation in this country. Especially with politicians.

What is the biggest misconception about Derryn Hinch?

Oh, that I am an ogre. I'm trigger-happy. I am a headline-seeking sensationalist. Whatever. I love this craft. I have been successful here and abroad in newspaper radio, TV and as author of seven books.

This week I celebrate forty years since I arrived in Sydney from New Zealand by boat! Check Sunday's column in the Sunday Herald Sun. In all that time through all mediums I have always kept hitting the typewriter. And always will.

What delivery platform of media do you prefer? - TV, radio or print?

Whatever I am doing at the time. Radio is so personal. TV is awesomely powerful. Newspaper writing and book writing are such a wonderful crafts. They require awesome discipline but I love the printed word having written two books about Scrabble. Words have been and will always be my life.

How many books have you published, and what one would you recommend for me, and those starting out in their careers in the media business?

Seven books I think. What would I recommend? Not mine. Try The Surgeon of Crowthorpe by Simon Winchester. The First Casualty by Phillip Knightley. Gallipoli by Les Carlyon. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh. The Making of a President by Theodore White. All the President's Men by Woodward and Bernstein. And a couple of Vietnam books.

How would you describe freedom of the press, or lack thereof, in Australia?

We are shackled. As I have said: truth should be a total defence in defamation actions. This business of " public benefit" or " public interest" is bullshit. And if a person is defamed then the courts should be more accurate in determining real financial damage. We lost defamation in Perth over a dentist with Hepatitis C. The dentist who sued us was not the man in question. He claimed that in overlay on the TV story his hands and his surgery could be identified. He got $100,000 even though his booking diaries showed he had not lost any business or reputation.

Over the course of your career, who did you both most and least enjoy working with?

Radio. Paul; Barber and Darren James from 3AW who came with me to London, Beijing, Los Angeles, Bombay, Hong Kong the Sudan, Ethiopia. Were with me when we saw 25,000 people about to die in an African drought and were with me for the first ever broadcast to the West from Beijing for which I won the New York International Radio Festival Grand award.

The worst?

The buffoons - boys with toys-- who are trying to run Melbourne radio's 3AK as a plausible, albeit pathetic, alternative to 3AW. Sad because they could have achieved something.

What advantages and benefits has convergent media, such as your website delivered to you?

Exposure. I think I have a professional and frequently updated and vibrant website. I enjoy having editorials spinning out there into the ether. And it adds another media arrow to the quiver. You can't escape me.

Where can the public currently see and hear you?

On the Internet at Writing editorials. Writing a film script. Probably not on radio this year except for guest spots.

What are some of your personal and profession goals you aim to achieve?

Never had goals in the past. No point in setting them for the future. Probably though to get another novel published and finish a film script. And get it to screen.

What words of advice do you have for those starting out in the media business?

I didn't know what a high school dropout was until I went to America and discovered that I was one.

(NOTE: Since this interview was conducted Derryn has signed on with Melbourne's 3AW to present the Drive Programme)

Read our book review of Derryn Hinch: That's Life


Derryn Hinch