Jack Tame wants to use his Hoskingian-level platform to get young people to vote

Photography/ Joe Hockley

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He hosts TVNZ’s Breakfast, writes columns for The New Zealand Herald, does Saturdays on Newstalk ZB, and now wants to use this influence to get youngsters out to vote. How did self-confessed “young fogey” Jack Tame reach such Hoskingian levels of media domination?

The media. We’re an amorphous blob, acting as one in a vast conspiracy, trying to control your lives, either by what we say or what we don’t. Our news is fake, our intentions dubious.

Or not. “I don’t think people appreciate how resource-strapped the media generally is,” says the co-host of TVNZ 1’s Breakfast, Jack Tame. “For our show, it’s three hours of TV every day with a minuscule staff. With the greatest respect to my bosses, they are just trying to get to the end of the day without stuffing up, just like any other mid-level financially strapped bureaucracy. There is no plan where everyone sits down and says, ‘how can we benefit the government, or screw the government over?’ There’s none!”

With a Saturday show on Newstalk ZB, opinion pieces for The New Zealand Herald, a daily hosting gig on Breakfast alongside Hilary Barry, and an occasional gig filling in for Mike Hosking on Seven Sharp, Tame is approaching a Hoskingian level of media domination. I alert him to a Mediawatch piece on Radio New Zealand (RNZ) that calls for limits on “omnipresent pundits”. It doesn’t go down well. “I think that’s stupid,” he says. “It’s totally highbrow. To suggest there should be restrictions on these things ignores the reality of our commercial media landscape. It’s a very RNZ opinion and convenient for a broadcaster that’s not broadcasting in a commercial environment.”

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While hosting Seven Sharp earlier in the year, TVNZ was criticised for placing Tame in the “captain’s seat” to the left, leaving long-time co-presenter Toni Street in what is traditionally the junior position, and doing much of the talking. Street was quick to point out that she chose her own seat, but does Tame think female representation on our screens is adequate? “Most broadcasters in New Zealand are running commercial operations so they’ll make what they think are the best commercial decisions for themselves. Look at Breakfast – our show’s main star is an older woman with a younger male host. We have an openly gay weather presenter, a Samoan newsreader and a woman reading sport news. That seems pretty progressive to me. It’s not to say everyone’s in that position, but I think there’s a lot of talent across the board.”

Until the end of last year, Tame was based in New York, where he acted as a one-man band, not only reporting the news but filming and editing it too. It’s not the glamorous life some viewers may envision. “TVNZ has no money! By its own admission! I started in 2006 and the model has completely changed. The digital revolution has totally changed the way people consume news and watch television. Everything is done on a shoestring.”

In five years, he travelled to 40 states, covered elections, massacres and natural disasters, and visited Guantanamo Bay prison. “When Hurricane Sandy happened in 2012, I basically just had this camera in my backpack and would walk around New York with my tripod. I sensed there were going to be problems with electricity so I got $1000 bucks out in cash and I would just pay whatever cars still had gas to drive me to another story, go and film it, sit in the street and edit it, and send it. I would be editing from the most ridiculous places.”

He doesn’t regret leaving the US before the Trump circus rolled out in earnest. “It’s a wonderful job and a wonderful place to be when you’re young and footloose and fancy-free, but I was just so tired.” And, he says, reporting on Trump often involves going through the same motions every day. “‘Trump shocked all political analysts again by doing this, and he’s completely gone against protocol by doing this.’ Saying that, I still subscribe to the The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post and The New Yorker. On Breakfast, when we’re looking at international news, usually because of the time difference it’s American news, so I’m in a good position where I can use a bit of my experience from the States in the job that I do now.”

Tame went to Cashmere High School in Christchurch, also attended by musicians Bic Runga, Yulia and the band Zed, journalists Corin Dann and Guyon Espiner, and cricketer Stephen Fleming. “About half the cab drivers in New York are Bangladeshi, and often they’d have a little TV in their car so they could watch cricket on it. Sometimes I’d do a little humble brag and say ‘actually, I went to the same school as Stephen Fleming’ even though of course I’ve never met him. And they would give me free fares.”

At school, he was the king of extra-curricular activities. “I wouldn’t say I was good at everything – just that I did everything. As kids we were always encouraged to play sport all the time, learn as many musical instruments as possible, do drama, whatever, and we all did. I loved doing all that stuff, but it’s not to say I was any good at it. I got an award for rugby when I was about 12, but I got the impression it was because I turned up on time and said thanks to the coach.”

From the age of 16, he knew he wanted to be a journalist. He was enchanted by a visit to his Australian grandfather who worked in community radio, and relished getting up early to silently flip through the Christchurch Press with his dad. He was also a big fan of Paul Holmes. “He was the big cheese, and he did the radio and TV thing so well.” What about when he called then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan a cheeky darkie? “I thought it was a disgusting comment. But people make mistakes.” Would Tame ever mistakenly call someone a cheeky darkie? “No. But I’m never, ever going to have the viewers or listeners, or achieve what Paul Holmes achieved.”

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Tame is aware that Holmes, like Hosking, was loved and loathed in equal measure. Being of a milder, more socially progressive bent, this causes him concern. “The truth is, if you’re a shock jock, you rate. In the States, if you’re a moderate, genteel broadcaster, you are going to be completely blocked out by whoever’s on Fox screaming that the president is from Kenya. But I know I’m never going to be in that position because I’m never going to say stuff that I don’t believe.”

Leading up to the election, Tame, himself a millennial at 30 years of age, will host 1News’ Young Voters Debate (“apparently there was a tortured discussion about whether to have an apostrophe after ‘voters’ or not”), which will feature youth representatives from the main political parties. Attracting young voters is a vexed issue in this country. “In the last election, [around] 200,000 people under the age of 30 didn’t vote. It’s all well and good that we see the exercised young university students, and the young Nats or Labour or Greens. But I’m interested in the people who don’t associate with those groups, who aren’t in the third year of a law degree, and whether or not they’re more likely to come out.”

Shouldn’t our political leaders just emulate whatever it was that the UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn did to win over young people? Tame says, “In Britain there was a watershed moment where you had a slab of young voters who had never been interested in politics or exercised by any issues, who suddenly said, ‘hang on, the last time I didn’t vote we took ourselves out of the European Union and this is going to have dramatic direct consequences in my life, I don’t want to be in that position again.’ But I’m not sure that any issue in New Zealand is likely to galvanise people in the same way. I hope I’m proven wrong.”

No matter what generation the voter, Tame says, the economy is the issue that interests them most. “There are so many things you’d think could pique people’s interest at the moment, whether or not it’s housing or inequality or homelessness – or suicide, for goodness’ sake. It’s absolutely insane that we’re not more exercised by that as an issue, especially younger voters. But the sad truth is the vast majority of voters vote in their short-term interest.”

Is Tame a young fogey? Or is he secretly really cool? “I’m a young fogey. I don’t own a TV, I listen to Kanye West, I own a strobe light. You haven’t lived until you’ve owned a strobe light. Strobe light to Daft Punk – ooh, it’s the greatest thing ever. I guess I’m progressive too – is it cool to like public transport? Is it cool to ride your bike to work?” Yes, I think so. “But I still drive a Toyota Corolla and like watching test cricket, so a large part of me is old man as well.”


Jack Tame’s newsgathering ‘round the globe

Covering a Trump rally in Dallas, Texas in 2015.

Tame travelled to Antarctica to interview David Attenborough.

Tame with Helen Clark when she was running for the U.N. secretary-general position last year.

In Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2014.

Jack Tame hosts the Young Voters Debate at the University of Auckland on 14 September at 7.30pm.  It will air on TVNZ Duke, and be livestreamed on 1 NEWS Now, Facebook and YouTube, as well as tvnz.co.nz