Journalism, with respect
For once, the cliche about a person's retirement being the end of an era may well be true. The announcement yesterday by the Radio New Zealand broadcaster Geoff Robinson that he would be leaving Morning Report where he has been a presenter for nearly 30 years probably does mean his style of broadcasting is practically over.
To call the retirement of a man who is 70-ish a surprise is perhaps a little disingenuous, particularly when the job requires him to get up at 4.30am every day of the working week to get into the studio ready to go on air at 6am.
Yet so much has he become part of the morning ritual of Morning Report's 400,000 or so listeners that, when he finally made the announcement on air at the end of the show yesterday, it took many them, and it appears many of his colleagues, by surprise. Robinson's retirement comes after nearly 40 years in broadcasting. He joined Morning Report not long after the show began.
It has been by any standards a distinguished stint. Robinson's boss, the chief executive of Radio New Zealand, Paul Thompson, paying tribute to him yesterday, rightly noted Robinson's calmness and intelligence in trying to help listeners understand complex stories and issues. Victoria University, when awarding him an honorary doctor of literature degree eight years ago, also captured his essential virtues: "In an age when the output of the electronic media is increasingly characterised by 10-second sound-bites and reality television, Geoff Robinson epitomises the heights to which public broadcasting should aspire."
Robinson's style has not been to everyone's taste. It has been gentlemanly, almost courtly, aiming to elicit information rather than provoke confrontation. It is certainly a sharp contrast to many others in broadcasting, where prickly argumentativeness and tendentious partisan advocacy prevails. That approach can be entertaining but tends to generate more heat than light. It is also subject to diminishing returns. Most politicians are now well trained for television and radio interviews. In his tribute to Robinson, Thompson described him as an interrogator, but that is too strong a word for Robinson's mode of questioning. His style was less interrogatory and tended towards polite, but dogged, inquiry.
For all its apparently softly- softly approach, it has been effective in getting answers to the questions listeners wanted answered.
It is an approach that need not end with Robinson and Radio New Zealand would be wise to seek a replacement host who values the tradition the retiring broadcaster has laid down.
Through his decades at the mic he has shown courtesy need not be left at the door for the sake of entertainment. He has proven journalistic accomplishment must involve integrity. He will be missed in our mornings.