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NZ journalists can learn from US media failures in Trump election, says Patrick Gower

The reverberations of media misreading of the US election are being felt in New Zealand, where media need to look in the mirror, says Patrick Gower, the Newshub political editor.

Freshly returned from witnessing the mind-warping American election of 2016, which saw a man by the name of Donald Trump win the presidency, Patrick Gower has identified lessons to be learned for the New Zealand media in the year leading up to a general election here.

“For people like me it’s going to be a case of being really careful, and explaining things better,” said Gower, the barnstorming political editor at Newshub.

In an epic, seven-hour interview with the Spinoff as part of the Vinomofo-sponsored On the Lash series, Gower, who to his credit did not use the word “learnings” even once, said that New Zealand was not immune to some of the shortcomings laid bare in the US.

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“All the criticisms – you think, that’s not me,” he said. “Too insider, doing things the old way, not being open enough to an audience that is changing, not reaching out to real people, or spending any time outside of the beltway or the bubble. You think: that’s not me. But realistically, those are lessons to be learned from what’s happened with the US election or the US media.”

These presented “confronting questions”, said Gower. “You think, I’m not chained to old ways, I didn’t come up in some institution – then you say, oh, yes I have, yes I have. They’re the sort of failings, you know? And it’s the old look-in-the-mirror scenario.”

After so many in mainstream US media had asserted a Trump victory was nigh impossible, the great fear, said Gower, was making similarly bold claims here, only to find that “you got it blatantly wrong”.

One of the lessons of the American experience was that the fourth estate “lost touch with the voters, and with their audiences”, said Gower.

“That’s what you’ve got to do when you’re here, think about how you’re going to stay close to the voters. Do we even know what they want? Do we get them? Who wants to be the political journalist who wakes up and goes, ‘I didn’t understand the nuances of my own country’, because I was doing something the way everyone had always done it.

“So I don’t have the answers to these things. But I know what the question is. Do I want to be the journalist that wakes up on September 24th next year and is going, ‘Aw, I know I told you this, but I didn’t understand the nuances of my own country.’ Not really.”

Following the wildly unpredictable election of 2014, New Zealand could probably use a more sober campaign next time round, said Gower.

“It might not be as interesting, and it might not have the highlights reel going and people laughing out loud and stuff like that, but New Zealanders may stay more connected to their electoral system. Because you’re talking about something that takes years and years and years. And the media’s got a role in it – this is the serious side. If you lose it, and this is what American’s shown us, if the institutions, the electoral system, lose it, if the politicians and media lose touch, anything can happen.”

Read the full interview, including Gower on why he walked away from Twitter, whether or not he’s in the entertainment business and his plans to open a bar in Nelson, here.

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