Hard News by Russell Brown


2016: The arc of a year

The final episode of From Zero, my RNZ podcast series about New Zealanders and drugs, opens in New York City and concludes back home with the question: why can't we have the conversation we need to have about drug policy?

I've tried to give each of the seven episodes its own arc and I guess this last one mirrors the arc of my own personal year. Going to New York in April to cover the United Nations was a career highlight and it's fitting that I've been able to make good use of work I did there in tying up my final gig for 2016. The From Zero episode page includes video I shot in NYC and the video of Tuari Potiki's speech to the General Assembly, which still chokes me up when I watch it.

It's actually been a pretty good year. It's a fact of the kind of work I do that there are weeks and months where you're not sure how the mortgage will be paid, but when the work's been there it's largely been meaningful. I went from tweeting sceptically about the "meth contamination" panic to writing this story for Matters of Substance about what the hell went wrong there. I interviewed Dr Ben Goldacre, first in this epic for the website, then onstage in Auckland. I wrote the opening chapter for a book about what's happening with journalism in New Zealand. Public Address won a Canon Media Award. I got to wear an artist lanyard at Splore again. Toi Iti and I continued to explore what making a bicutural TV show means, and often as not found the answer in our personal chemistry.

An idea I had last year for a new iteration of the conscious-party concept that began with the Great Blend blossomed this year with a series of Orcon IRL events at Golden Dawn that seemed to be the right thing at the right time. It was a treat to work with Esther Macintyre, Leonie Haden and Charlotte Ryan as co-hosts, and with Matthew Crawley and Hugh Sundae on the production side. And I remain indebted to Quentin Reade at Orcon, who has been finding the budget to help me do interesting things for a long time now.

But the latter part of the year has really been all about From Zero. I'm deeply grateful to Tim Watkin for reading my prop, taking the punt and commissioning me to make the series. I continue to marvel at the editorial freedom I was offered in doing so. And I can barely express have much I've enjoyed working with Justin Gregory, the series' patient, creative and thoughtful executive producer.

The early work on From Zero took me out of my comfort zone a couple of times. The first was visiting Liz and Dennis Makalio in Cannons Creek, the place where they live and I'd never been before. And the second was the privilege of visiting Helen Kelly and conducting what would be her final interview. On both occasions, I was accompanied by Rebekah Parsons-King, RNZ's tireless video creator. People like Bex are the unsung heroes of evolving media organisations.

It's been a relatively quiet year for Public Address itself, in part because I've been waiting on the launch of Press Patron, Alex Clark's shared payments platform for blogs and independent websites. It would have been operating now if Alex hadn't been messed around on payment processing by one of the big banks, but it will launch early next year.

I'll invite those of you wonderful souls who already contribute to Public Address to move over to Press Patron, which will give you the tools to support other local websites too. I'm looking at 2017 – which will see Public Address turn 15 years old – as a refresh year. Ironically, I was so busy working in September that the 25th anniversary of the whole damn project – beginning with Hard News the 95bFM radio bulletin – just sort of slipped past.

To say that this year brought some disturbing trends is putting it mildly. Bigots have been emboldened, truth has been devalued and in some way that's not immediately transparent, the discourse has been polluted. I argued last week with an ostensibly left-wing person who had posted actual neo-Nazi material on Facebook. I wondered if Putin had won here, too.

But what can you do other than keep on working? NZ On Air has granted Media Take another 20 weeks on air for 2017. It might be our last season – but I thought that this year, too. There has been interest in a book based on From Zero, which is something I'd love to do if it's financially practicable. I have an idea to take Orcon IRL to the next level. There are a couple of other things that aren't quite ready for talking about.

Most of all, I want to help my two autistic sons further into the world. They're talented – one makes videos and the other writes with style and auhority about video games – but they face challenges in even getting to try and do things most of us take for granted. New Zealand has become a harder place for people with disability. In this, as in all things, I'll have the love and support of Fiona. At my 40th birthday party, I burst into tears when she stood up and talked about our "23 year conversation". It's 37 years now, and we're still talking.

So anyway, thanks for reading this far, thanks for reading all year and thanks for any other way you might have supported the things I do. This won't be the last post for the year – there's a music post and a few other bits and pieces, and of course there's the announcement of the Public Address Word of the Year on Morning Report tomorrow. But I'm definitely winding down for what I think will be a well-earned rest. Cheers, everyone.


If you missed some or all of From Zero, no worries. All seven episodes will remain online for your summer listening pleasure. Look out also for some blog posts based on research and interviews conducted in the course of making the series.

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