Neil Mitchell: A sum of all parts

Neil Mitchell is at the top of his game.  With another survey win under his belt, the contract negotiations continue with Fairfax.

Should he sign on for another three years, he’ll reach the 30-year milestone with 3AW – not bad for what started as just a weekend gig.

While he admits to yearning for ‘friendlier’ work hours, Mitchell still has the passion for talk radio and enjoys what he does.  And he does it very well.

In the final part of our chat with the veteran broadcaster, Mitchell offers advice to young journos and discusses the temptation of being an ‘influencer’ like 2GB’s Alan Jones.

Nikole Gunn: We’re in an election mode (Victoria goes to the polls on Saturday) and there’s been a lot of talk about the influence of media “players”. Do you feel that pull to maybe put your opinion forward?  Is there a temptation to influence?

Neil:  No. No. The moment you start looking at that sort of power, you’re stuffed.  Whether it’s in newspapers, radio or TV, if you’ve got that “Oh look, I can do this and I’m going to pull these strings” attitude, you’ve really lost it.  But I know some people do it.

I don’t think I’ve ever, ever editorialised on how to vote, ever.  I’ve editorialised on issues and I’ve beaten up politicians from both sides.  I call it on how I see an issue, not on political philosophy. 

Having said that, a talk audience is obviously a conservative audience, a right wing audience and I’m not going to go in to bat for the CMFEU.

But I strongly oppose capital punishment, which is very much against the audience, so I don’t always go with the audience.

Nikole: So there’s no pressure to influence?

Neil:  I would never try to influence an election.  I try and expose both sides and expose them when they deserve it and they often deserve it.

Nikole: Journalism, I think, still has a future.  Any advice for your young journo?

NM: Don’t!! (laughs).  I think we under-estimate training in the industry and not just the academic training, but the grass roots, on-the-job training. 

Too many kids, they get thrown in at the deep end and no one tells them what to do. You get terribly frustrated, but someone has to tell them how to do it.

Those that have come from country areas; they’ve everything and they’ve usually had someone over their shoulder to tell them if they’ve done it right or wrong.  You can’t under estimate that.

That’s the message: if you’re in regional (radio) the more experience, hands on experience that you can get, the better equipped you’ll be to get here (AW).  HOW you get here, I don’t know.  It’s the old story: you just keep belting on the door.

Nikole: One thing my father instilled in me as a journalist is that anyone can learn to write, but no one can teach you how to listen to the answers.

Neil: That’s interesting.  One of the strongest pieces of advice I gave Tom Elliot, when he took over drive, was “listen”.

I don’t know that he does (laughs) but I said one thing you gotta do is listen. If you don’t listen, you’ll miss great opportunities, you’ll miss great stories and people will think ‘why should I ring up, if you’re not going to listen’?

For all that he’s considered a hard-nosed ‘shock-jock’, Mitchell is actually very thoughtful and passionate about what he does.  He’s also very generous with his time and takes a keen interest in the new crop of journalists, coming up through the ranks.

It’s clear that he has the same regard for the job as he did when he first started with 3AW in 1987.  Time will tell whether he’ll back behind the microphone next year and beyond.


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