José Barbosa listens to the debut of First Person, John Campbell’s new podcast series for Radio New Zealand.
Whatever Radio NZ ends up doing with John Campbell you’d hope, possibly pray, his old mate Carol Hirshfeld would get him out into the world. Campbell standing in a field somewhere navigating the tributaries of the Solid Energy collapse or the Kim Dotcom affair was always the best part of Campbell Live. Partly because when he goes into full outside “this is the deal” mode he can be compelling – but mainly because he’s so damn good at talking to people.
Campbell’s new drive show has yet to launch, but in their wisdom RNZ has him out on the streets of South Auckland for the inaugural episode of First Person. He’s talking to people about how they deal with low wages and the high cost of living. The first minute is him just greeting people: “How’s life, Mark?” “Nice to meet you Lilly.” Their plight is sadly predictable. Nicole regularly works more than 60 hours a week to support five children. Teina the butcher describes pay day as “broke day”. Tracey’s worked for two years at the same company and is still on minimum wage. All are struggling with paying the rent and meeting the cost of living.
It’s a gentle investigation, but at times a pointed one. And one directed – not by accident I suspect – in the direction of the Radio New Zealand audience. “Do you think rich people, better off people really understand what you’re going through”, he asks one of his subjects. No, not really is the reply.
The podcast isn’t really set up to be a hard hitting investigation into inequality. This is people, genially and expertly facilitated by Campbell, describing their circumstances. Giving us a peek into their lives. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it feels like there’s a lot of this already on RNZ. Jack Perkins, for example, has been doing this for decades. Is it really the only approach open to RNZ journalists?
There’s hints of story throughout, Lilly wants to eventually open her own youth home. There’s a vague sense the ambition stems from her own experiences, but we never get beyond the idea that life is very hard for these people. Maybe the point is that the audience is mistaken in thinking they really have a handle on how hard some people’s lives are. At the very least it tries to shake the assumption that having a job is enough to get by.
This first episode is still a good start. We want to discover what Campbell finds in his two days in South Auckland. It’s great to hear him back on-air, so to speak, and it’s possible he might very well have found his preferred medium.
“Good luck, Teina” he says, signing off his first podcast for his new employer.
Good luck, John.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the days' best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.