2016 saw the end of a 23 year career at TV3 for Hilary Barry, with her resignation also triggering the end of ex-Mediaworks CEO Mark Weldon’s reign of terror. A year on she’s happily ensconsed at TVNZ’s Breakfast, and sat down for a few beers with Duncan Greive to look back on her glittering career, that chaotic era and what came after. Photography by Joel Thomas.
When she’s saying something gossipy, or naughty, or that she isn’t sure she should be saying, Hilary Barry’s unmistakable voice disappears into a whisper. A whisper that is still audible on any recording device, but a whisper nonetheless. During the course of a robust four hour drinking session which began mid-morning and finished mid-afternoon last Friday, she whispered a lot.
We were discussing some tense stuff: presenter salaries, her relationship with Paul Henry, the ratings battle with The AM Show, the Weldon era at Mediaworks and all that came with it. Even so, she whispered more than you might expect, because she is far less guarded than the average public figure, which is probably why she’s so popular.
Barry is likely the most beloved presenter on television right now. Her colleague Mike Hosking has a greater hold on the nation’s psyche, and is almost certainly better compensated (more on that later), but is an intensely divisive figure who is essentially loathed by a solid chunk of New Zealand’s population. Trying to find someone with a bad word to say about Barry would be a long and fruitless day.
Ever since she first started reading the news, arriving with an impish grin she couldn’t hold in, she’s had us in the palm of her hand. It’s the humanity which does it. Unable to stop nervous giggling when reporting on a tragedy, or tears coming after the departure of a colleague. The sense that her emotional responses to events mirror your own, rather than being contained in some airtight newsreader vault. Watching her read the news (or, latterly, discussing it), you feel like you have sense of both what is happening, and a proportional response to it.
“I was just nosy,” she says of her attraction to journalism. She started her career in Carterton, at a tiny provincial radio station owned by the same man who was the key on-air talent: troublesome future colleague Paul Henry. “Paul was so tight he wouldn’t even buy me shorthand notepads,” she says, so he made her pads from used photocopy paper stapled together. But she loved the job, loved how much she learned being the only journalist around, and knew immediately that broadcasting was her home.
Henry sold the station not long after she started, for what Barry describes as “big bucks” while rubbing her thumb and forefinger together. She moved to the big smoke: Masterton, to work for Radio New Zealand, before the call of a bigger newsroom landed her at the Christchurch outpost of TV3. The bureau chief was Mark Jennings, a future news icon with the best eye for talent of his generation. They got on well, and she enjoyed a different kind of relationship with him for the remainder of her glittering career, one which saw her rise alongside a generation of stars like John Campbell, Carol Hirschfeld and Mike McRoberts to epitomise the confidence of a particular TV3 era. Before bankruptcies and combative board members and strange recruitments and waves of redundancies.
Before Mark Weldon, the CEO and author of so much of that unhappy chaos. I hadn’t seen or spoken to Barry since those dramatic days a year or so ago, and so went to her house to talk about her career, and how it all went down. And how it feels to have landed at a new spot, with a cool new team, on the once fierce rival after nearly a quarter-century across town.
Despite my losing a poll on vacuuming prior to arrival, the striking concrete-and-glass home she shares with husband Mike and sons Ned and Finn was suspiciously spotless. She was a magic host, even whipping up some toasties when the afternoon threatened to get sloppy on us (we massively overstayed our welcome and drank far more beer than we brought). Barry’s a famous craft beer nerd, with a dedicated fridge to back it up, so she seemed the perfect subject for the latest instalment of this series.
We cracked open a Pernicious Yuzu Weed courtesy of our sponsors Garage Project – a casual 8% sour IPA, at around 10.45am – and got to talking.
The following conversation has been condensed and edited for brevity (somewhat) and clarity (even less).
I was going to ask you about drinking at 10:30, whether that’s a normal thing on a Friday or not?
It’s not a normal thing, but Friday is a good time to do lunch. I certainly might meet up with a friend and have a wine or two over lunch. It would not be unusual to have a drink by lunch time but it would be unusual to have a drink at 10:30. Although this morning the boss, it must have been somebody’s birthday and he pulled out a couple of bottles of bubbles after the show, but I didn’t think it was a great idea to have a glass before I then met you to drink some beer. Yeah, it was quite unusual for me to say no to a glass of bubbles or the other stuff, but I actually did on this occasion.
I appreciate that. I wanted to ask you about that amazing generation at TV3. One of the biggest thing about your old boss Mark Jennings, is that he seemed to have this eye for talent and to know what to do with it, would you agree?
Well, to start on his talent spotting – I do think he is very, very good at working out what people are really good at. I think he is very good at exploiting your strengths and also pushing you, because he would often see things in you that you didn’t see in yourself. On the culture side of things, he led by example. If a producer was sick, Mark would produce. He was very hands on, and that’s really rare, I think, for managers. The good thing about that was, as a young person in the newsroom, you just go, wow he’s really inspiring, because he’s very, very good at what he does. He’s a fantastic journalist, got a great nose for news and all the rest of it.
You go out of your way, because you go, here is a guy who is in management, he had the weekend off, but somebody is sick, so he’s here doing the job. That’s a great example to set. Not many top managers do it and the ones that do get noticed by the staff. Also, I think, because of his Dunedin, Scottish, Presbyterian background, he is pretty straight and quite stern. I don’t think I ever saw him lose his rag and yell at anybody. If you disappointed him and got a telling off, it was like you disappointed a parent.
I’ve always been fascinated by the dynamic between TV3 and TVNZ – that TV3 had to build it from scratch, whereas TVNZ owned everything as of right. I was wondering if you could talk about how that felt in the newsroom.
Funny thing is, that changed over time. It got to a stage where I felt like we were the huge machine for a while. That was pre-Weldon days. There was this period where the network was rating really, really well and we were making lots of money. They were spending on technology and setting us up pretty nicely.
But back to your original question, in those early days we were so much the underdog. They were always looking to save money, if you had to stay overnight somewhere, heaven forbid. I remember staying in places where you’d sleep almost fully clothed because you’re sure you’d catch something. They were so tight on everything.
In terms of going out and covering stories, TVNZ would be there with two or three cameras on a big story and five reporters, and you’d be there on your own. You just always knew you were behind the eight ball, but that made it more exciting and made you hungrier to do a really, really good job. That’s good. That’s really good. I think things have certainly evened up.
You had this beautiful culture and newsroom that has really grown into quite a powerhouse. Then Mark Weldon arrives. What was your initial reaction when he first walked in?
I was really hopeful and optimistic because some of the ideas were really good ideas. I think the combination of the radio and television newsrooms was something that should have happened a long time ago and didn’t, because the duplication was just ridiculous. You had radio, TV and online all operating completely independently. It just did not make sense that they operated in isolation. I think it had been talked about for a long, long time, but it took someone with swagger to actually go, “No, we’re doing this.” Truly, he made that happen, and that was the right thing to do.
He loved your review. We loved your review. You were probably a little more effusive than the rest of us, but I’ll put it down to the bubbles. We absolutely thought, okay fresh start. Some of these ideas are great ideas. But the rumours about Campbell Live started around that time.
He wasn’t included in that presentation, which felt odd.
No, so there were a few question marks over a few things, but in general there certainly was optimism.
Not long after, you joined Paul Henry while still doing the news. Were you still, at that point, optimistic about the overall mission?
Yeah, I thought that was a good idea.
There seemed to be this unity of purpose about TV3 at that time. You would be tweeting about X Factor – it felt like there was the whole organism was together. Then it came in stages – you’d hear some rumblings out of the investigative 3D camp and rumblings about Campbell Live, but there was still this energy about the process. At what point did you start to think there might be deeper problems?
I’ve always felt that about being part of a network, particularly a small network like that. I guess, maybe because I’d been there from the very beginning, I invested in everything the company did, that I could authentically invest in. There probably were a couple of shows where I was never going to tweet about how much I loved it. But if I was authentically invested in it, like I genuinely loved X Factor because it was something I would watch with my kids and I knew all the contestants and I fangirled them and all those sorts of things.
I’ve never endorsed anything I didn’t like, but I supported everything I possibly could for the sake of the network, which, because I’d been there so long, I felt very, very invested in.
At what point did that sense of family start to feel shaky?
Around the time Scout [Rachel Glucina’s ill-fated gossip site] started.
Scout was announced about a month after John left, right?
Yeah. In all honesty, it’s such a haze in my mind about what happened next and the sequence of things, because it was a grieving process. It really was, you were grieving.
These were 20 year colleagues, right?
Yeah. So you’d live through saying goodbye to the 3D team, to John, and then Mark and so many people that you would never have even heard of, that were just as important as all those people in my world. It was once a month – stab in the heart. So and so is gone. That’s being disestablished. You get to this point where you’re going, ‘come on’.
I’m such a cheerleader. I’m that person in any workplace I’m in who is, ‘come on, it’s okay, come on everybody, we’re all right. Keep going, eye on the prize, we’re all going to be fine’. That’s just part of who I am because I like everyone to be happy.
I’m grieving but also trying to put on a brave face. Then you actually get to this point where you’re worn down. You get to a point, and I mentioned Scout and you go, ‘I’m not buying into this crap. That is shit, utter shit.’ You shrug your shoulders and you go, ‘enough’.
I always felt like you were the bellwether for the organisation both because you do have this energy about you that seems infectious and is palpable even outside of it. There are a lot of people who just are suspicious of change, under any circumstances. That doesn’t seem like it’s part of your make up at all.
No, and look, I’m not. I absolutely am a realist.
When the recruitment of Rachel Glucina for what became Scout was announced, what was your reaction?
Shock really, and we just felt it was an affront because she just did not fit our brand.
She’d also written a lot about your key people, quite unkind things.
Correct. Though she’d never been unkind to me personally, because I love and care about the people I work with, I felt affronted on their behalf too. Her brand did not align with our brand. Simple. Just at odds, completely at odds.
Was she supposed to be part of the newsroom?
That was my understanding.
But it never happened?
Oh no, absolutely not.
Did you have a personal relationship with Jennings through this period? Did you discuss the changes?
Do you know what? Yes, but I didn’t need to say anything. I didn’t even need to broach the subject with him, it’s like, roll your eyes into your head and he’d just nod.
So Jennings leaves and you left maybe two months later.
You probably know better than me. It’s such, as I say, it’s so hazy in my mind now.
You resigned on a Friday, and I actually did R&R – Robert Rakete’s Sunday morning show – with Mike McRoberts that Sunday, a long scheduled thing. He just looked like a ghost.
He had not been well either. That was awful in itself too, because I wanted to see him and talk to him about it. I certainly told Mike before the news came out that I had resigned but he was really, really unwell. I wanted to go and talk to him face to face, but he said, ‘Please don’t come around because I’ve got lurgies.’ I had to tell him over the phone. It was like dumping a really lovely boyfriend. Oh it felt so mean, so mean.
Anyway, the lovely thing is friendship transcends all of that. It is a job, it is life, and we catch up for lunch and have wines together.
For you it had just gotten too much.
Yes and look, obviously Mike and I have a relationship where you can speak really openly to each other. We both were feeling similar sentiment. It would not have surprised me if he’d called me and said, ‘I’m going to leave, I don’t want to be here anymore.’ On a certain level actually he won’t have been surprised, just because we were all occupying a similar space, but when it actually did happen it was a bit of a shock to him.
You resigned and we had senior TV3 sources telling us that that was going to be the straw, that the executive were going to express a lack of confidence in Weldon.
That was an overstated situation, I thought. I didn’t think my resignation was going to have any effect.
My own theory of it is that it was less the reality of your resignation than the symbolic power of someone who felt like TV3’s public heart saying that they no longer wanted to be a part of it. I do think what it signalled was the frailty of this huge organisation – no one person can carry the whole thing, but it felt like a signal to the executive that this campaign was never going to work. Then there is that iconic photo of you and Mike heading into TV3.
This is the naughty side of me. So naughty. We had come off air on the Paul Henry show. I remember it distinctly – we were taken into a room, a few of us, and told. Then I think a wider group was told around the same time that a press release went out.
What was the emotional temperature in the room at that point?
I think you can imagine what it was and I feel like it’s almost too mean to say, do you know what I mean? You know the background, you know the process of what happened. You are likely to guess what the reaction in the newsroom was. I’m not going to deny what it was.
Was there a sadness about it too? And did you ever consider turning back?
No, and people said to me, ‘Now that that’s happened, will you stay?’ I’d made my decision, do you know what I mean? Even the fact of him leaving was not going to change what had happened and how I felt.
It didn’t bring back all the other corpses.
No, exactly. I think I was at peace with my decision right then. I’m the sort of person who wouldn’t change their mind anyway. I think it was inevitable, and I’m glad for them that it happened and that they got another clean slate to start again. I felt that that in many ways, for the wider picture, was going to be positive. I know people will probably want to go, ‘oh you really don’t like Mark Weldon.’ Truly I didn’t have a lot of dealings with him. My personal feelings for him were pretty ambivalent. It was not about a person, you know what I mean?
Have you seen him since or had any communication at all?
You were there 20 plus years. How did it feel being out?
23 years. It felt so weird. Truly, I shuffled around this place in sweatpants and slippers for what seemed like weeks. Because it was emotionally draining as well, and I was working such long hours, working both ends of the day. That was really, really full on. I was exhausted physically I was exhausted emotionally. Yeah, that was quite an odd time really, very strange.
And yet you’ve gone straight back to the well, straight back into three hours of live television.
Here is the thing, people say, ‘Oh she left to be with her kids’. Oh come on.
I wanted to spend more time with my family because I was physically and emotionally exhausted – but am I going to retire at 47? I live in Auckland, my darling husband is a teacher, we’re not living off a teacher’s wage for God’s sake – of course I’m going to get a job and work. Truly, it would be lovely to retire, but there are bills to be paid.
The night the news of my resignation came out, I would say every large media company, bar one or two, made contact. That blew me away. It’s like, no truly I actually do need time out to be with my family. Thanks all the same.
Stop there, what are we opening next?
We fuss about with various beers for five minutes or so, eventually settling on a Party n Bullshit and a Sauvin Nouveau.
Thanks for being such a sport. It’s probably the tenth time you’ve had to go through all this.
Oh, no, no, no. Do you know what, it’s so much easier doing it in your own space rather than going somewhere public.
I just do feel like nobody wants to hear Hilary banging on about how sad she felt, it’s over. Anyway, it’s your piece, but I’m just aware people will think ‘oh shut up Hilary, enough already’.
I have moved on, I have good friends who work there, and I’ve made lovely new friends where I am. I feel at one with the world.
Let’s just quickly stray from all that. Tell me about how you got into craft beer.
Oh okay. Well Mr Barry, basically, so he was an early adopter.
What was his gateway?
I’m trying to think. I think it was just trying out a few things when we were out places. It was, I think, the first certainly was Epic, the Epic Pale Ale.
That’s so many people’s way in.
When you go out with your spouse, you eat their food, you drink their drinks. I loved the flavour, but I did think it was, ‘oh my god, that is strong’. We would buy beers that we hadn’t tried. Twelve years ago we built this place, and I worked with the architects and Mike said ‘yeah, whatever, you design the kitchen you like.’ I went to him and I said, ‘I’ve made sure that the architects design a beer fridge for you in the kitchen.’ His face! I could have cried.
So after 23 years, you’re walking into a new job, a whole new team. How involved in the casting of it, because this was a new product built around you, essentially, probably the first one of any scale, was that quite exciting? What was the process like?
I think, again, people have assumed that I was involved in the recruiting process, which I wasn’t. No.
Would you have liked to be? Does that stuff interest you?
Yes and no. Put it this way, I think the team they suggested was a fantastic team. I think if they had suggested that I work with someone other than Jack… Who knows? But that person that you’re sitting right next to, that you’re basically solely working with – that’s absolutely got to be right. When they said, ‘What do you think of the idea of Jack, I was one hundred percent behind that.
Based on what?
I knew him through meeting him on a couple of jobs when I was working for TV3 and he was working with TVNZ. I knew about him because it’s a small industry and you know who the dickheads are, and he’s absolutely not one of them. People don’t have a bad word to say about him for a reason, because he is lovely and kind and generous of spirit and just a delightful human being.
This is the one Paul Henry question.
Now you’ve limbered me up.
There was that extraordinary interview with Greg Bruce that Paul did, which felt like a career suicide note, even by his standards. You made some comment in some forum, maybe on air, about the difference between them. It is so striking, it’s almost a generational difference between the Paul Henry-type New Zealand man and the Jack Tame-type. At that moment, did you feel vindicated?
The thing is, if people are dicks, I’ll call them out. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care if I used to work with you, I don’t care if you’re a mate. If you’re a mate who is being a dick I’ll call you out. I just will. That was in that category. I really enjoyed my time working with Paul. You don’t dissolve into fits of giggles, crying, if you’re not genuinely enjoying somebody’s company.
He’s amazing talent.
He’s so clever.
You can’t deny, no matter what you might think of his views, that he had an electricity about him.
That’s the thing, it doesn’t matter who I’ve worked with, because the thing is, you are going to have to work with people throughout your career – whether you’re doing your job or my job – with people who are very different to you. My philosophy has always been that I focus on the positive things about them. Things I admire about them, the things I respect about them. The things I have always admired and respected about Paul is that he is hugely entertaining. If you focus on those positives and jump on board with that, he is a huge talent.
Do you think we’ve seen the last of that talent in a public forum?
Why is that?
Because I think he values life outside of work more than working. You know what? Good on him, because if you’ve got enough to retire on, why the hell wouldn’t you?
Well, a lot of people love the work and you at least give off a very strong impression that you love what you do.
I do, oh no, I do love the work, but if I was 10 years from now, oh shit, I’d want to retire. If I had enough money to retire – oh my god, totally.
Speaking of your outspoken side, sorry I did the classic 2017 journalist prep thing of scrolling through your Twitter feed.
There is this rising thing at the moment of, particularly female news reporters and journalists exposing the sexism that they confront in the course of doing their jobs. What made you start doing that and what has the response been to calling enough on that bullshit?
I do it when it’s outrageous, because there is a lot of nonsense that goes on behind the scenes, when you’re a female on TV people only ever commenting on your hair and your make up and not what is coming out of your mouth. That’s always been the case. There is so much of it I just can’t even be bothered responding. It’s when people are particularly offensive and particularly sexist where you just go, ‘oh for god’s sake.’ As I said before, if you’re being a dick, once in a while I’ll bite. I won’t bite all the time. Nobody wants to hear Hilary Barry whinging about things every five minutes, but once in a while if somebody really pisses me off, I’ll snap.
Like you say, there is all kinds of stuff behind the scenes and mostly you just let it pass you by. Does it stop having power over you?
It’s never had any power over me. Only because, if you look at the viewers who discuss how women look, that’s never been part of who I am, because I’m not a frigging model, do you know what I mean? People criticising the way I look, I just think, ‘mate, you should see me on the sideline at rugby on a Saturday morning’.
That criticism has never bothered me, which is probably quite good, because I think if you were a young person coming into the industry, with social media the way it is now, and you were conscious about your looks, then it would be debilitating, it really would. I feel for some of the young ones coming through because of social media. When I first started with TV, we didn’t even have cellphones, so if someone wanted to criticise you, they had to go through a whole process to where they get their call logged.
I do feel for the younger generation, and I do have thick skin but you know what? I have perspective too. I care about what Mike Barry thinks about me. I care about what my kids think about me, to a point. Beyond that, whatever.
So recently the BBC released its top 10 presenters and they were quite gendered in terms of the skew there.
You’re going to have to fill me in. I saw the headlines and I got the basic gist.
Basically, of the top 10 highest paid presenters at the BBC, I think nine were men, and I think all the top seven. Your colleague, Mike Hosking came out defending that and then defending the right to privacy. What is your perspective on the way men and women are compensated in your industry?
Well, it is one of those unique cases where your talent and reach is an important factor in it. It is a bit different from other industries. If there were two news readers, at six o’clock, who had exactly the same experience, one a man and one a woman, they should be paid the same wage. I have no doubt…
We have a quite long, whispered but still recorded and on record conversation about whether it’s OK for her to reveal confidential information about a former colleague’s salary. She finally, three beers deep, decides that it’s fine.
Okay, so Mike [McRoberts] and I were definitely paid the same. Am I okay to say that? Is that good? Mike and I were paid the same. Can I say that?
You can totally say that. Okay so Mike Hosking this week, and I’m just going to quote you a line that he said, he said, ‘Sexism seems to be increasingly used as an excuse for market reality’. And he’s the biggest star in New Zealand whether you agree with him or not. But he’s had this long career, he’s 52 – but the length of time of which women are allowed to be on television for age-type reasons seems to be much shorter. So men get a 50 percent longer career with which to earn more experience. Do you think that’s where the experience part of it becomes more tense?
Seeing women over a certain age on television is one issue that absolutely needs to be addressed. I am the oldest woman in a full time job on television and I’m 47.
That’s fucked up.
How does that feel?
I don’t worry that I’m going to lose my job because I’m old at 47. History would say that… and yet you look at the last person who was that old, and it’s not even old – I can’t even believe I’m using that word – but Judy Bailey.
Or Angela D’Audney.
Or Angela D’Audney! They left their jobs for different reasons that had nothing to do with their age. In fact, when Judy Bailey filled in for me on the Paul Henry show, people were so excited to see her on air.
That was a news story.
I was excited to see her on air. She’s amazing, and she absolutely proved that even in her – we’d have to Google Judy’s age, and I don’t want to age her more than she is – but she’s over 60 surely. And she was just as good as she always was, totally watchable and credible and all those things that a news reader should be. That is one issue.
Then you look at the issue of pay parity. I think to focus on the media industry in terms of pay parity is to muddy the waters a bit, because it’s a serious issue, and women are paid a lot less in so many industries, than men, for doing almost exactly the same work.
Where the waters get muddied in the industry that we work in, is that for some of these shows where it’s personality based, it’s an entertainment show. You know what, the rules in that sort of setting don’t apply to the same extent. Put it this way, if you had Paul Henry and he had a junior co-host working on a show together, a female co-host, should they be paid the same wage? No. Of course, they shouldn’t.
Say it was Judy Bailey and a junior man, who should be paid more? Judy Bailey should. They have a price. It comes with experience, with your audience reach, with so many other factors that really don’t apply in any… It’s quite a unique industry in that sense.
However, if you’re reading the news at six o’clock, you have the same level of experience, you’re doing the same job, hands down, absolutely you should be paid the same, as Mike and I were.
And are things all good on Breakfast? A recent news story suggested ratings were in trouble and that there could be changes coming.
That was total fake news! I’m sorry, how can I quote Trump? But it was total lies. I don’t follow the ratings that closely, but yesterday I sent an email to the head of research. Since the AM Show launched we’ve had 115 episodes. In the target demographic of 25-54 Breakfast has won 102 of 115 episodes. And in 5+, it’s won all of them. So.
In the last 16 days – that includes today – they’ve won one day. And now, I know what it’s like when you’re the underdog. ‘Oh my god – we beat them!’. But this perception that we’re slumping in the ratings, that we’re not performing – it’s just totally wrong.
And you don’t want to slag anyone off. Because anyone who puts out three hours of television a day, on any channel – hats off to you. Because it’s hard work, and everyone’s working their asses off. But still – don’t be peddling false stats on me. It’s not true, I love what I’m doing, and I’m not going anywhere.
Lastly, I want to talk about the number of fucked up animals on your feed.
We have a little shack up north that we go to, that doesn’t have internet or cellphone reception or anything. So we do all our trapping up there. Mr B is very big on his trapping.
It looks like a very serious operation you’re running.
Oh very serious operation and the kids get very excited. That’s the joy of having boys too, they get excited over trapping rodents. We have any number of different traps there where we do it. It’s cool too, because when you’re in the city you just live in a little envelope and then you go to the country and there are big wide open spaces. You feel like you can do your bit, in terms of native bush and bird life and everything, which Mike and I both love being part of.
We love tramping and love getting outdoors. To feel like you’re doing your bit just in this little pocket where you’re in the little group of people who are working with the regional council to trap possums and stoats.
We’ve got a trap here too [she gesticulates to a poorly-disguised yellow box]. Twice we’ve seen a possum.
Just hanging out?
It makes me wonder whether someone has a pet possum, which is such a silly thing to do. Anyway, someone’s pet possum is about to get killed
That’s a great end note.
At this point we turn off the recorder. And proceed to drink for a couple more hours. Hilary just will not let you leave. As the afternoon wore on, she made us toasties using a mix of Alpine cheddar and Alpine mozzarella, while also heckling other journalists for being cheese snobs. Eventually we emerged, blinking into the bright afternoon light. I went home and had a nap, while Hilary had a beer with Mr B.
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