“Touch wood I have not had a ‘viral moment’ which I think it’s an amazing achievement in 10 years of live national TV 15 hours of every week,” Michael Rowland tells TV Tonight.
“I haven’t done or said anything that has got me publicity for all the wrong reasons.”
Today marks 10 years with News Breakfast today, having joined the show in June 2010, yet while the likes of Karl, Kochie, Sam and even Virginia have all had their moments of clickbait coverage, ABC’s affable morning host has managed to avoid them all. The worst he can recall in his decade is walking in front of the camera or doing something else when the cameras switch to him.
“On the other side of the coin, there are plenty of highlights. I’ve had the privilege of covering some really big stories both here and oversea. I guess getting over to States for the last two Presidential elections has been a highlight, particularly the last one in 2016.
“It turned into a 10 hour broadcasting marathon when it became very clear that Hillary Clinton wasn’t according to the polls going to be President Donald Trump was going to win. That was a really long night.
“One of the professional and personal highlights was the privilege of being at Gallipoli”
“One of the professional and personal highlights was the privilege of being at Gallipoli in 2015 for the centenary of the landings and anchoring, not just breakfast coverage but ABC News coverage from there for the course of a week. That will always stay with me.”
Rowland had been a US correspondent prior to joining News Breakfast, covering stories such as the Obama election and the global financial crisis. But his career very nearly took a different turn out of school.
“My first job out of school was as a management trainee for Westpac. I did that for a couple of months before I got into a journalism course. I have pondered where I could have gone if I stayed on the Westpac tram!” he recalls.
“I recall being absolutely terrified”
“In my first cadet job I was thrown a tape recorder -because we had cassette recorders back then- and told to go to a Jeff Fenech pre-fight media conference in Sydney. I recall being absolutely terrified about asking a question. But I chickened out in the end.”
He credits veteran ABC journalist Steve Chase as being an early career mentor.
“Steve taught me a lot and set me on a career, which has focussed very heavily on politics, over the years. He’s a great journalist, terrific man and really helped me a lot in my early career. He’s still presenting, shifts on ABC News Radio, to this day, in Sydney.
“Mark Colvin was also a source of great advice -both as a journalist and when I was looking towards heading overseas advice on how to jag a foreign posting and what to do as a foreign correspondent. I’ve been very lucky in that respect to have people help me along the way.”
On News Breakfast, Rowland is required to traverse all kinds of topics, political, economic, entertainment, lifestyle, science and more. He admits it has taken him time to relax into the role.
“On any given morning you can be interviewing everybody from Big Bird to the Prime Minister,” he explains.
“It is one of the most challenging jobs in broadcast journalism. It’s certainly been my most challenging job. It took me a while to slip out of the straitjacket of journalist not showing much of himself, not being able to flick the switch to vaudeville. You learn that as you go along. But you can be light and cheery, telling very bad jokes then all of a sudden, you’re going to switch to live scenes of rioting, looting and chaos in the US.
“So it is a balancing act.”
“Three words: research, research, research.”
So what’s the key to a good interview?
“Listening. And the second second part of the answer would be three words: research, research, research. No matter how small the interview I read everything, watch everything I can get my hands on to prepare for the interview.
“The way I do it is just dot points of questions I want to get to. But more often than not, those questions are just thrown out the window. You get better with it as you go on. Like a lot of younger journalists, I was intent on asking every single question in the order they were written my notepad.
“But you’re missing points in the conversation that could have taken the interview in another (direction).
“You’ll often end up completely at a different destination as to where you thought, simply by listening by challenging, and by conducting a conversation.”
And it is paying off. With former presenter Virginia Trioli and now with Lisa Millar, ABC’s ratings have been steadily rising.
“We’ve had the number 2 spot for the last 10 weeks or so”
News Breakfast has been eclipsing Today, albeit via two channels ABC and ABC News. The show is averaging 203,000 metro viewers in 2020 up 32% on 2019. Its biggest ever audience was in March at 301,000.
“It’s a credit to all the team and Lisa has made a huge contribution to that. We’ve done pretty well in terms of the ratings against Today. We’ve had the number 2 spot for the last 10 weeks or so,” he says.
“We’ve bobbed up, bobbed down over the years, but we really started taking off towards the end of last year. And, again, speaking to the popularity of the News brand, people came flocking to us around the bushfires like last year.
“Since the pandemic unfolded and the shutdown started, people have been switching onto us in droves …for the last three months or so. It’s a horrible story on every front but it’s gratifying and fulfilling that more and more Australians are trusting us for their breakfast news.”
“We are called News Breakfast for a reason”
As he begins his next decade, Rowland is complimentary about commercial rivals but believes ABC has found an audience because it offers a point of difference.
“I’ve got the greatest respect for everybody who works in Breakfast TV. They love what they do as much as love what I do.
“I think the thing that sets us apart is that we are called News Breakfast for a reason,” he suggests.
“We do offer a newsier product than what you get from the other shows. We do a bit of light and cheery stuff, but we do draw on the most trusted news brand in Australia. I think that’s what delineates us from the other offerings out there.”
News Breakfast airs 6am weekdays on ABC.