Along with a group of journalism students and lecturers from the Hague University, I had the opportunity to visit the studio of talk show Pauw last week. We were invited to take a look behind the scenes and sit in the audience while the show was broadcast live.
We all gather in the empty television studio; one of the producers tells us about the programme and her daily work: “During our story meeting at the start of the day, we discuss which topics we will cover. We then look for interesting guests, pre-interview them, and brief Jeroen [Pauw]. It’s important that he knows the stories and opinions of the guests, before he meets them –which is just a few minutes before going on air. ”
“What is Pauw’s role behind the scenes?” a student asks. “Does he decide which stories are going to be covered?”
“Yes. He is very involved in the process and works closely with us.”
“So what is he like to work with?” I ask in my best Dutch. “I know that such TV personalities can have quite big egos… Is he not difficult sometimes?”
The producer smiles. “Jeroen is really pleasant to work with. He is definitely one of the better hosts in that respect.”
A student comments: “He can really be quite arrogant sometimes, though. I saw an interview with him once, where he was quite nasty.”
“So you didn’t like that?” the producer asks. “Well, other people have said similar things before…”.
Four years ago, Jeroen Pauw also ruffled quite a few feathers when he admitted on the programme Kwestie van Kiezen that he had slept with more than 200 women. I am tempted to ask whether the counter has increased since then, but decide to take the moral high ground and focus on more noble journalistic questions: “You mentioned that you have quite some competition these days –even within your own station. Do you find that you have to cover lighter stories — gossipy stories – to please the public and get higher ratings?”
“Gossipy stories, definitely not!” the producer snaps back. “We always aim to keep our journalistic standards high. We don’t really pay much attention to ratings, and wouldn’t sacrifice our journalistic integrity, but things certainly have changed since I was working for Pauw and Witteman. At that time, we were the only late night talk show. Now there are several, so of course, there is a lot more competition…”.
In his book Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit, Joseph Epstein describes how gossip has infected journalism over time: even respectable newspapers such as the Washington Post, the New York Times, and TV shows such as 60 Minutes are given over to stories that are little more than gossipy in their intent.”
“Everywhere one looks in show business, politics, even business, gossip creeps more and more into the foreground. Once the freak show in journalism, gossip has now become center ring,” Epstein claims. With an increasing public appetite for scandals and celebrity news, how can a programme like Pauw resist the urge to indulge its audiences? Especially since ratings can actually make or break a show…
When we are all settled in the chairs surrounding his table, Jeroen Pauw appears and greets us, minutes before going live. The opening jingle starts, we clap, and Pauw announces the topics for tonight: the court case of Tarik Z. who stormed into the television studios of the NOS with a (fake) gun, requiring air time. Adriaan van Dis, the winner of the Libris Literature Prize. A handicapped, 86 year old American woman about to be evicted from the country. Women having relationships with prisoners on death row in Texas. Rather serious topics indeed.
Suddenly, in the middle of it all, a small ironic segment about the dress of Trijntje Oosterhuis, (a Dutch singer who will perform at the Euro Song Contest), comes out of the blue. The deep cleavage is a big topic of discussion. One week later, Trijntje’s dress seems to have become a major topic for the media… And tonight, coming up on Pauw : an in-depth interview with Trijntje’s sister in law… Rest my case.