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What happened to Penney was a breach of trust

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 26: Head Coach Rob Penney of the Crusaders reacts after the win in the round ten Super Rugby Pacific match between the Crusaders and Melbourne Rebels at Apollo Projects Stadium, on April 26, 2024, in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

The decline of trust in the media won’t have been arrested by the recent ambushing and vilification of Crusaders coach Rob Penney.


Figures released in April indicated just 33% of New Zealanders trust the news they’re delivered, with 75% suggesting they actively avoid it altogether.

And you can see why, given what Penney went through.

It’s routine for television networks, in particular, to send naive, inexperienced reporters to the media standups of rugby teams.

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Once there, these reporters read questions from pieces of paper or off their phone, designed to get a rise out of the interviewee and create a “gotcha’’ moment.

These aren’t questions dreamed up by the reporter, but by someone back in a newsroom who isn’t brave enough to come and ask them themself.

The instance with Penney was particularly distasteful.

Now, a man of his experience shouldn’t have taken the bait, nor sworn in exasperation afterwards.

But this was reporting of the lowest form, as was the pile on that eventuated afterwards.


The narrative should’ve been dubious, potentially deceitful media tactics seek to make a mockery of a rugby coach.

Instead it was cranky, losing, soon-to-be-sacked oaf shows how arrogant, thin skinned and out of touch rugby folk really are. As for what Penney muttered afterwards, who actually cares?

My only surprise was that Penney didn’t simply take the reporter aside and call him names to his face, because that’s usually how these things go.

That’s always been the beauty of journalism.

You have your opinion, you express it in ways that the people you’ve written about might not care for and then they get their right of reply.


No-one bleats about it afterwards or writes that so and so called me such and such.

It’s all part of the to and fro of real reporting.

You’re not the news and should never seek to be. The doers of the deeds are the people who are important and the ones that viewers, listeners and readers care about.

I dealt with Penney for years and found it an absolute pleasure..

He was accommodating and patient, to the extent that he would grant me additional interviews once the television reporters had stammered out the questions provided to them by a more senior colleague and the cameras had been packed away.

Penney appreciated those with a serious intent to ask educated questions and to inform the public.

That’s not to say I was ever any good at doing either, more that Penney was not the nasty or entitled person he’s been portrayed as since.

Ultimately, I don’t seek to absolve him of blame, but to try and give an example of why journalism in this country might be in decline and to suggest that the issues for that largely reside with us and not the people we cover nor those who consume our product, in ever decreasing numbers.

Eddie Jones once famously described New Zealand’s rugby media as “fans with a keyboard’’ and, yes, there is a bit of truth to that.

It’s an inevitable consequence of building professional relationships with coaches, administrators and, to a lesser extent, players.

Often, though, those relationships are robust and words can be exchanged off the record.

But that’s where they remain.

There may not be mutual admiration, but at least there is trust.

What happened to Penney was a breach of that trust and reflects more of the media than it does on him.

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV


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Ian 15 days ago

While I agree that the level of new reporting is poor in NZ and has been for more than a decade, I felt the questions asked in this interview were pertinent. The problem is interviewees have become used to being spoon fed soft questions that have allowed them to put a positive spin out to cover their failures. On this occasion a reporter asked probing questions and Penney was not only unable to address is failures, but also acted childishly. Is that what we want from a coach at one of our premier sports franchises?
I for one want to see the results of the review that the Crusaders have started, and a return to form next season, I’m not sure that this coach will be the one to make that happen.

Graham 15 days ago

A brilliant article by Hamish Bidwell. He is a journalist who lives in the real world. Rob Penney was baited by this guy and had endured this line of questioning for some time. He is a coach , who is accommodating and open, some of the assumptions made over the last fortnight have been totally unfair.

Allen 16 days ago

This is the standard of today’s journalists. They put themselves front and centre of any interview regardless of the feelings of the interviewee. Sadly this will continue so suck it up folks.

Nickers 16 days ago

I made this exact point on Stuff, and unsurprisingly had my comment removed.

The reporter was of the lowest, most amateur quality, asking the same questions over and over again, slightly reworded just to get a reaction.

I’m surprised coaches agree to do any media when they are spoken to in a such disrespectful manner. Regardless of how you feel about Penney’s appointment or performance everyone is entitled to be spoken to politely. Imagine if the guy doing the interview spent that time asking genuinely interesting questions that people would be interested in hearing the answers to, maybe even revealing something insightful. It was the lowest journalistic integrity and quality, designed purely to enrage and hopefully catch a soundbite, not even fitting of a tabloid magazine back in the 90s.

As this guy got Penney to have a go at him in that manner he will probably get praise from his myopic bosses and encouraged to do more of the same, ignoring the fact they are widely loathed and mistrusted.

Make sports journalism great again.

Hamish 16 days ago

Bit weird not to link to “what happened to Penney”, TBH.

flyinginsectshrimp 16 days ago

I think Rob Penney's reaction to the gutter journalism was entirely reasonable.

Far too few people understand that their actions have consequences. Suggesting that Penney ought not to have responded as he did signals that antagonistic behaviour is acceptable.

If you feel entitled to provoke someone twice your age, twice your size and multiple times your experience, then you'll get what's coming to you.

William 16 days ago

Bidwell’s Dead right nobody trust media any more, look what’s happening to TV and print, just not creditable. I generally come to the comments section for a bit of a chuckle and to see peoples overreaction. good comedy is a rarity these days.

NHinSH 17 days ago

The questions were fair and the type of thing that should be asked. It’s not a journos role to simply ask the nice stuff and skirt around the issue, I know that’s the case in rugby, especially here in NZ but that actually makes me trust the media even less.

There were a million ways Penney could have answered that would have shut down the questioning but also been open and honest with that answer.

SadersMan 17 days ago

Yeah, media, you’re all the same. But for a seasoned coach like Penney to bite is the real expose`. We expect better from our man in charge.

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