Peter Hitchener, Channel Nine news presenter

Peter says his passion for news began as a young boy living in the country, now he is one of the most recognisable faces on Australian television. Photo by Costa Haritos.
“What we’re trying to do is just what it’s always been, which is just to tell the story, tell people what’s going on, be of service to them." Channel Nine news presenter Peter Hitchener talks to Costa Haritos.

You grew up in the country. Have you been back since?

No, I haven’t been back for years to that part of the world. It was very remote when I was growing up, it’s much easier to get to now I would think. It’s just part of my life that I’ve moved on from. I had very happy moments because the country is a fabulous place for kids to grow up. Inevitably it seems that our careers bring us to the big cities, and you couldn’t have a nicer one than Melbourne. I love Melbourne.

How did you get started as a journalist?

I had to go to boarding school, there wasn’t a secondary school nearby. After I’d finished there I got a job at 4BH News and got started up in a newsroom, without any tertiary degree. I’d started an arts degree and when I got the job, I thought, ‘Ah! I don’t need this. I’m working already, I’m in the industry, let’s go!’ I was lucky enough to be at 4BH, then the ABC for probably about seven years, and then joined Channel Nine in Sydney, and then came to Melbourne in 1974.

Has technology evolved over time?

Very much so. I started in 1965, and it was monochrome television, there was no colour TV. There was the ABC and two or three commercial channels, in most cities. That was it. Since then we’ve had enormous technological advancement, but what we’re trying to do is just what it’s always been, which is just to tell the story, tell people what’s going on, be of service to them. Delivery platforms change but what we’re trying to do hasn’t. I can remember some amazing moments along the way. I think it was 1969, I was at the ABC in Brisbane hosting televised coverage of the first moon walk. How amazing! Actually introducing it, crossing to the moon was a moment in history. It was wonderful.

How do you get your news?

I get my news everyday from a variety of sources. The first thing I do in the morning is read the New York Times and then I have a look at The Age and The Herald Sun and maybe The Australian and the Washington Post. Those are the fairly regular publications, then I have a look at Twitter, to see what people are talking about. Maybe see what’s going on Instagram but that skews younger so they’re not going to be talking about world events. There’s all types of dialogues going around so I just try to tap into them and see what people are talking about.

Has the way in which news is reported changed?

I think we’re having a bit more fun. Tony Jones and I have a joke every now and then, or if there’s a funny story people quite like it if you have moments of humour. Not in a serious story, of course, but in a light-hearted story. It’s much more conversational, it used to be very formal. I remember my first bulletin at the ABC I was reading the scripts and everyone said ‘You did alright, you didn’t make any mistakes,’ but you could see the papers shaking because I was nervous. We didn’t have prompters in those days so you’d just have to read off the script.

Do you get nervous now?

Sometimes. If we’re not quite sure what we’re going to be doing, if we’re going to the headlines and we’re not sure if we’ve got the lead story. It can get a bit nerve wracking but the best thing to do is to keep the audience in on what’s going on, let people know what’s happening. You’ve got to share yourself with whoever is watching. I hope that we always have an audience, but with those people that are left you’ve got to share yourself with them. In this age there’s no secrets, there’s no private life. You just have to hope that people accept you as you are, and throw yourself at their mercy and hope for the best.

Have you had any moments you wish to never revisit?

The seagull incident was horrifying, death defying! There are moments I don’t want to revisit, like the Black Saturday bushfires which were shocking. That’s probably the one that was very tough to deal with, for everybody involved. Quite apart from the fact that we lost a former team mate in Brian Naylor and his wife. We were there when people who had survived the fires were displaced from what used to be their homes. They just needed somebody to tell their story. You realise we’re not there for the entertainment, we’re there to serve the audience and to serve the public. The next day, and we went up to Kinglake and Kinglake West and it was just horrific. You have a profound respect for people who fought the fire, the people who survived and of course those who perished.