Natalie Barr: My job is to put them under the spotlight and not be too highbrow about it

Natalie Barr: My job is to put them under the spotlight and not be too highbrow about it

EXCLUSIVE:

If you’ve read recent articles lately around Sunrise you’d be forgiven for thinking Natalie Barr has suddenly become somewhat short-tempered.

“Sunrise host Natalie Barr loses it at Anthony Albanese…”
‘‘Scare campaign’: Barr in fiery Voice debate”
‘‘Barely able to cope’: Sunrise host erupts”
“Natalie Barr grills Reserve Bank of Australia…”
“Sunrise’s Natalie Barr erupts at climate activists”
“Sunrise host stuck in ugly war of words”
“Sunrise host Natalie Barr erupts over David Van scandal”
‘Sunrise host Nat Barr unleashes over Peter Dutton’s Voice plan”
‘Channel 7’s Sunrise host Natalie Barr erupts over online trolls”
‘Sunrise’s Natalie Barr loses it at Donald Trump supporter on live TV”

Since the departure of David Koch in June there’s little doubt that the Sunrise presenter of 20 years has taken the lead on more key interviews and with that comes extra scrutiny in media. So far it is largely confined to her on-air duties, contrasting the very personal press which often courted her predecessor, Sam Armytage.

As an anchor of Australia’s top rating breakfast show there’s also a requirement to probe politicians and decision-makers, on behalf of the broad audience waking up to morning news. If extra coverage is mostly good for the show, then any misreporting and clickbait isn’t a problem just yet.

“Sometimes it’s a bit strange, because I was taught as a journalist that you shouldn’t be able to tell who I vote for,” she tells TV Tonight.

“As an old school journo I should be asking the same ferocity of questions to both sides of politics. Some weeks one side will get more questions, because that’s just the way the topic will go.

“I can’t do anything about the way it’s reported. I don’t like myself being the story. That doesn’t sit well with me, but I can’t do anything about it.

“My job is to put them under the spotlight”

“I feel like I’m there to do a job and I try to do it to the best of my ability. My job is to put them under the spotlight, because that’s the job of a journalist. To fairly critique, and ask the questions that people at home are going, ‘Hang on a second, that doesn’t make sense.’….And to never assume that you know what they’re talking about. That’s also something I really take on board. To not be too highbrow about it.

“If I don’t understand it, or I’m not quite sure, to say, ‘I don’t get that. What do you mean?’  My view is always, ‘If I don’t get it, there must be thousands of people who don’t get what they’re talking about.’  I think a lot of times politicians just assume they can say a line and get away with it.”

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Barr also denies she is ever pressed editorially by producers, management or sponsors to adopt a particular perspective.

“I’ve never been told anything, journalistically. I’ve been at Seven for 29 years and I’ve never been influenced by what the network tells me,” she assures.

“There’s no seven second delay. We are out there and we’re in charge.”

“It’s an interesting question, because I’m often asked that.  But there’s no dump button. There’s no seven second delay. We are out there and we’re in charge.

“There are producers writing us briefing notes, there’s a producer in the control room telling us to wrap, maybe saying, ‘Continue this…’ But journalistically, there’s no-one ever telling us, ‘I want you to take this line.’

“It’s very much,’ You’re journalists and we trust you to be straight down the middle on these topics.’  (Yes) we are sponsored and it’s a commercial operation, obviously….”

Newly-installed co-host Matt Shirvington, who succeeded David Koch in June, is full of praise for Barr’s experience and helping him settle smoothly into the role.

“She’s been so good, all the way through,” he explains.” For me to come in as a newbie, I lean on her strengths. She leans into her own strengths, and then I kind of bring something a bit different. So it’s working really well. She’s my rock at the moment.

“The reality of the show punched me right between the eyes”

“(Kochie told me) it’s about being yourself. It’s about celebrating the uplifting stories, while also understanding those heartache stories. The reality of the show punched me right between the eyes on day one because it was the bus rollover in Hunter Valley.”

On the night of 11 June a bus overturned in the Hunter Valley region. 10 people were killed and another 25 were taken to hospital. For a breaking news breakfast show it was a major event, on Shirvington’s first day outside of his fill-in duties.

“It happened at 12:30 at night. We don’t really get to hear it till an hour later, once the police get an understanding of what’s going on. Then we sent a camera up, so by the time we got into the studio, it was literally coming in, that vision. It was still foggy, didn’t know what was going on, didn’t know who was in the bus, whether they were still there, and what sort of state it was,” he recalls.

“Nat and I, so luckily, had done a couple of extended versions of the show. We’d done a couple of (Outside Broadcasts), but we had also done Donald Trump’s initial indictment, on air for nine hours straight that day.”

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In the fury of breaking news, live crosses, juggling couch interviews, cooking, entertainment, competitions and more, one has to be nimble and versatile. There are teleprompters, producers in your ear, ticking clocks, technical fails that require you to stretch and keeping one eye on what else is breaking.

The experienced Barr points to a simple challenge inherent in a hectic 3.5 hour broadcast.

“In my opinion, the hardest thing to do on our show is to listen to the person you’re interviewing, and to give them the respect that they deserve so that you can give the viewers the best story,” she insists.

“It’s easy enough to have someone sitting there and ask them a few questions. It’s hard to actually listen to what they’re really saying and respond and get to the core of the story by bouncing off what they’re saying. Because that’s where the story is. Anyone can ask questions. The hard part is to listen and respond.

“Sometimes we actually look at each other and say ‘Did she just say that?’

“The beauty of Sunrise is you can go off on whatever tangent”

“We have a few prepared questions, a few briefing notes, but the beauty of Sunrise is you can go off on whatever tangent. We’re live, there’s no delay, we’re in charge, because we’re the ones listening to what those people are saying. And that’s where the story is.”

“There’s no-one better, I believe, in this business, especially in breakfast television, to do that than Nat,” Shirvington offers. “I’ve seen it firsthand. I sit next to her and I’m learning every time.”

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The admiration is mutual with Barr crediting Shirvington’s own television experience, having had a decade at FOX Sports.

“Obviously he knows sport, but he is a dad, and a loving husband and just a really good human. And that’s what this show is. I feel bad saying this because he’s (sitting) there. But I think at the base of our show, it’s a human show. Yes, it’s a news show but you’ve got to be interested in everything in front of you. That’s what you’ve got to bring to it. And that’s what he does,” she says.

“Yes, we want to win. It’s a commercial television station”

So what does Sunrise do better than rival breakfast shows? It’s a question that prompts some reflection.

“I think as far as our competitors (go) yes, we want to win. It’s a commercial television station,” Barr concedes.

“But we’re not sitting there every day thinking ‘What are they doing?’ We’re sitting there everyday thinking ‘How can we put the best show to air?’ And we’re sitting there every day, researching, keeping up with the news all day, making sure we’re across everything and doing the best job we can.”

“In every subject matter, in every briefing, in every interview we do, at the top of that page is ‘How do we move this forward? What is the agenda here? Where’s the story going? How’s it going to evolve?’” Shirvington suggests.

“It’s always looking ahead and the team we have, whether it be a segment producer, whether it be Sean (Power, executive producer), whoever it is, that editorial is critical because that ultimately tells the story. That ultimately drives the news cycle. I think we have the best team at that.”

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Barr also likens the light and shade of the program to a family dinner or BBQ where a range of topics is canvassed. So how do well-paid television anchors stay in touch with the common man? It can’t all be down to segment producers?

“We drive home, take our make-up off, put our trackies on”

“We drive home, take our make-up off, put our trackies on, walk out the door, go to school pick up and act like normal human beings!” Barr laughs.

“At the crux of everything that we do, we’re all family orientated people,” Shirvington agrees. “Yes, we have our challenges. We have our tough days. We have our good days. Some days you’d love to be able to be at the Father’s Day breakfast and you don’t get a chance to be there. It’s hard, it’s heartbreaking when your kid’s crying in the back seat of the car, going ‘I’d love you to be there Dad!”

“So you make a point of going and seeing him in his classroom another time.”

“It becomes your life”

And at those hours you also wouldn’t do it long term unless you genuinely loved it.

Now in her 20th year, just ahead of Mark Beretta at 19 years straight, Barr insists, “I love it. I don’t think you can do this job if you’re not all into it. Because it’s a lifestyle.

“You go to bed at 7:30 at night, you get up at 2:40 in the morning. You love it. We love the show. I think it took me five minutes to start loving the show because it becomes your life.”

Sunrise 5.30am – 9am weekdays on Seven.