After 50 Years of News, ‘Hitch’ is not quite ready to retire, thanks.

After 50 Years of News, ‘Hitch’ is not quite ready to retire, thanks.

Life is coming full circle, of sorts, for Nine News anchor Peter Hitchener.

After joining Nine in 1973, initially in Sydney, Hitchener soon moved to Melbourne, reading weekends news by 1979 until succeeding Brian Naylor as weeknight anchor in 1998.

Having now celebrated 50 years at Nine, he will return to Saturday and Sunday bulletins, still bringing viewers the news but with a little more work / life balance.

Just don’t say the ‘R’ word to him.

“I started thinking about it during the year, when there was talk that I’m going to retire, around the traps. And I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ and I thought, ‘I’m going to see if I can pivot to a less busy schedule.’ Lo and behold, this is the outcome, working weekends,” he tells TV Tonight.

“It was really only once I made the decision, I thought ‘I’m happy about this. I’ve done the right thing.’

“But I never want to retire, I love to work and if I’m not reading the news, I’ll be doing something else. I don’t think retirement is particularly good for anyone. Well, not for me.”

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Hitchener, 77, grew up in Texas, Queensland where his parents ran a sheep and cattle property. His first media role at around 19 years, was with 4BH Monitor News in Brisbane before moving to ABC Radio Brisbane.

“I loved it. I found what I wanted to do and it hasn’t changed. I’ve been very lucky because, all the career things have fallen into place. There have been ups and downs, of course, because that’s the nature of the industry, But I’m just so lucky and so delighted I can still keep going,” he continues.

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Over the years ‘Hitch’ has worked with many greats in news, nominating ABC’s James Dibble and Nine’s Brian Henderson amongst some of the best.

“James Dibble read the news beautifully -radio news in particular, but also on TV. Brian Henderson, I had the pleasure of working with and he was a great teacher. Sir Eric Pearce was about the community, in favour of good causes, very humble and hilarious. Brian Naylor was enormously successful and enormously good at what he did.”

From his many colleagues he notes, “I loved working with Jo Hall and we’re still very good friends. One of the good things about weekends will be I’ll be introducing some of her special reports, which are absolutely outstanding.

“Tony Jones is just a wonderful colleague and Livinia Nixon… Alicia (Loxley) and (Tom Steinfort) still to come, passing on the baton.”

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Nine celebrated ‘Hitch’ with a Board room luncheon yesterday.

Over the decades Hitchener has also worked with some of Nine’s long-serving news directors.

“John Sorell was probably one of the greatest writers of all time. He could, in five words, tell a story, set the scene… he was of the ‘old school,’ which meant that he was a tough teacher, at times exacting and demanding but he got the results. I’m so lucky to have had his input along the way,” he recalls.

“Hugh Nailon (current Melbourne News Director) did a cadetship of sorts in his early days here at Nine. He did a little bit of time in the newsroom and A Current Affair, then onto very glamorous things with 60 Minutes, travelling the world so he’s a newsman through and through and lovely to work for.”

Yet over his five decades there has also been enormous change. Whilst he has embraced social media (he is prolific on Instagram), it’s impossible to ignore the shifts in the delivery and consumption of news by audiences.

“Methods of delivering news and receiving news have changed. While on Free to Air there may not be quite so many people sitting down for dinner, watching the telly with a family anymore, there’s 9Now for instance. It’s so wonderful to be able to start over whenever you feel like you’ve missed the news,” he says.

“People see individual stories on Tik Tok. It may not be that they are able to watch an entire bulletin, but they will catch up with the news.

“But there are also there are times when you are reminded about how important the service is, for instance, during COVID lockdowns. The numbers were certainly up because people got some continuity in where their information was coming from.”

He’s also been a tireless company man for Nine, appearing at community events, taking schools on studio tours, and ambassador for charities such as the Lort Smith Animal Hospital and LGBT radio JOY 94.9. And while in 2008 he revealed he was gay, Hitchener much prefers to let the work speak for itself.

“I’ve often thought, ‘Why did I go into a business where you actually have to be identified?’ It’s much more comfortable when you don’t have to. I wonder would I make the same choice again? But the thing about news and broadcasting is it’s irresistible.”

Indeed, if there were any qualms Nine might have focussed more on his achievements in announcing his successors, Alicia Loxley and Tom Steinfort, it’s not a view he shares.

“It’s all very amicable and I’m very much looking forward to what’s next,” he humbly insists. “The focus shouldn’t be on me, because I’m moving on a little bit. So let’s look at the big picture. I’m happy with that.”

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As he now looks to some downtime, a bit more time for his golf swing, and pivoting to 2024, what does he see as the strengths of television as a news service as opposed to reading it on a smartphone or desktop.

“Pictures can be more powerful than say audio…,” he suggests. “But somebody presenting a curated service is really important so that people can build up trust in the reader.

“I hope that’s the future of news. The fact is, we’re all interested in one another. As human beings, we’re curious about what’s going on, so that’s why there will always be a market for news.”

Peter Hitchener’s final weeknight bulletin is 6pm tonight on Nine Melbourne.