10 Questions with James Hollings

<p>James Hollings, editor for <em>A Moral Truth</em></p>

James Hollings, editor for A Moral Truth

1. When you first started thinking about this collection of investigative journalism, what was your hope for it?
I teach a course on investigative journalism at Massey University. It was revelation to me how excited the students were reading the text, John Pilger’s Tell Me No Lies his anthology of investigative journalism — even though a lot of the stories are quite old, and there’s no pictures! I realised there’s an appetite out there for good journalism, and that good writing doesn’t date. At the same time there was a lot of dystopian talk about the end of investigative journalism, and how there’s not much in New Zealand anyway. I just got tired of saying no it’s not, and yes there is, and thought, I’ll show them! I’ll write a book!


2. Who did you want to read it?
Mum, firstly. My students, but really anyone in New Zealand, and even elsewhere. I wanted to show them just what fantastic work has been done here, and hopefully make them a little bit proud of some of our journalists.


3. Did you imagine that you’d be able to reach right back to 1863?
No, not at all! That was one of the most exciting things about the book, finding those pieces from Te Hokioi. I knew there was stuff from the late 1890s, but not that far back. That was a shock, and a very pleasant one!


4. Which story surprised you the most?
Apart from Te Hokioi, which I’m very proud of bringing to public attention, Jack Young’s account of an execution is chillingly brilliant. Magnificent writing. But overall, I think Blair Ensor’s Glen Bo Duggan piece. I thought it was a brilliant piece; it took me a while to understand how it was working, but for me it brought it all together, and showed what good journalism can do.


5. Which story affected you the most?
Three: The story of the hanging of Tahi Kaka, an 18-year-old, for murder, for what was clearly a manslaughter at most, was heart-breaking. But the most painful stories to read, and think about, were the two stories about children who died; Delcelia Witika, and Glen Bo Duggan. These affected me a lot.


6. Is investigative journalism still viable for the mainstream media?
Absolutely. There’s some great journalism being done by our mainstream media. The NZ Herald has a particularly strong team at present, but Stuff, Radio New Zealand, TVNZ and TV3 all have some good journalists who have done some fine investigative work. It’s always been hard, it’s always been something that has to fit around and in between the daily grind, but if a journalist really wants to, they will find the time.


7. A strong feature of the collection is your interviews with the writers. Was that a particular pleasure?
Undoubtedly. As I said in the acknowledgements, this really was an unexpected pleasure. They are really smart, interesting, interested people, who really, really care about people. As someone who’s done a fair bit of journalism, it was most enjoyable talking about the nuts and bolts of tradecraft with like-minded people, and with people who tend to think more what can I do, rather what can’t be done.


8. Researching and editing this book: Exhausting or exhilarating?
Certainly both, at various times. Like a PhD, the idea and the first two thirds is the easy part – it’s keeping grinding away to get all the details tidied up and finished that tends to be exhausting. But yes, exhilarating, especially when I saw the proofs and it started to sink in that this was actually going to happen.


9. Do you prevaricate? Or are you always purposeful?
I am a bit of a dreamer – I tend to have a lot of ideas and have had to learn that ideas are cheap but they are only really worth anything if they are finished. So yes, I prevaricate, too often.


10. What are you reading at the moment?
I have just taken on a leadership role at work, so have been doing some reading for that; biographies of Putin, and the new biography of Lenin. Seriously, I did a degree in History and also majored in Russian, so enjoy reading anything that combines those interests. Both were great reads, and give you some understanding of why Russia looks to leaders like them. I have an ongoing interest in the historiography of certain moments in history, so tend to keep up to date there too. I’m looking forward to reading MUP’s Experience of a Lifetime. I also really enjoy fiction; this year I’ve loved The Sympathizer, Gilead and am looking forward to reading Catherine Chidgey’s The Wish Child.