Carol Hirschfeld was born in Auckland. Her father Charl was an Australian immigrant with German ancestry. Her mother Ngawiki was Ngāti Porou, from Rangitukia on the East Coast. Ngawiki died when Carol was 10. Time living in Indonesia and Australia with her father as a teen helped open her eyes to "the wider world".
Her father's voracious reading of the daily newspaper sparked an interest in journalism — and made her begin to realise how journalism can help "ordinary, everyday citizens make decisions about their lives". After an English Degree at Auckland University and a Diploma in Journalism from AIT (now Auckland University of Technology), Hirschfeld became a cadet reporter for Radio New Zealand, then a sub-editor — first at the Auckland Star, then at TVNZ.
In 1988 she had a brief spell at Avalon as a reporter for Fair Go, but moved back to Auckland after meeting future husband Finlay Macdonald. Her time at Avalon brought her to the attention of the producers of Crimewatch, and in 1989 she replaced Natalie Brunt as Ian Johnstone’s co-presenter on the crime show. In his book, Stand and Deliver, Johnstone praises the subtlety, grace and empathy she brought to an often difficult role.
With Crimewatch only requiring her presence for a few days a month, Hirschfeld worked for TVNZ in Auckland as a network news producer and field producer for the high profile Holmes.
In September 1990 Hirschfeld was in the headlines rather than reporting them, after she was removed from Holmes, apparently at the instigation of Paul Holmes himself. The incident was front page news on her old paper, The Auckland Star. Hirschfeld long refused to comment directly on what happened, but in 1998 told the Listener, "we’ve resolved that ... we both acknowledged it was about a certain time. I was younger, he was younger and it was all pretty new to us.”
In 1992 she directed and produced extended one-off documentary Here is the News, which examined three decades of news and journalism on Kiwi television.
A move to current affairs at TVNZ followed. In 1994, Hirschfeld was one of the Frontline team who worked in secret on the investigation into the Winebox allegations of corruption and incompetence in the Serious Fraud Office and Inland Revenue Department. The project, brought across from TV3 by Ian Wishart, was dogged throughout by rumours of attempted board and government intervention.
Hirschfeld shared a NZ Film and Television Award in 1996, when Frontline 's follow-up Assignment was named the year's best news and current affairs show. Late in 1997 she was lured away from Assignment to rival network TV3, to read the 6pm news alongside another ex TVNZ name, John Hawkesby. TV3 had always stuck to a single newsreader on its main primetime bulletin, as a key point of difference in the competition with TVNZ newsreaders Judy Bailey and Richard Long. However, Philip Sherry, Joanna Paul and then Hawkesby had failed to appreciably dent TVNZ’s 6pm ratings.
Just three days before Hirschfeld and Hawkesby's first joint bulletin on 16 February 1998, Hawkesby had a last minute change of heart. With a publicity campaign in full swing, he resigned, alleging that TV3 had breached his contract by bringing in a second newsreader. John Campbell was brought in as his replacement. He and Hirschfeld barely knew each other, and had just one Sunday morning run-through on the Ice TV set before going to air.
Hirschfeld claims to have suppressed the details of that first night. But over the next five years, her accidental partnership with Campbell grew the 3 News share at 6pm from 20 to 30 per cent. Some of Campbell's interviews—eg his 'Corngate' face-off with Helen Clark — made headlines. The way Hirschfeld and Campbell complemented each other — “He’ll make me rethink my wariness and I make him take a deep breath” — extended to other shows. The producer-presenter team also collaborated on two series of interview show Home Truths, and twelve episodes of A Queen's Tour, which retraced the 1953 Royal Tour of New Zealand.
In 2003 the pair marked five years on 3 News. But both were missing the creativity of their former jobs. “When you make something that’s your own, at least you think ‘Okay, it’s me’. Instead of being judged on the way you pronounce certain words,” Hirschfeld told The Listener.
There had been speculation for some time about a Campbell fronted show at 7pm, and in 2004 Hirschfeld and Campbell retired from news reading to become producer and presenter of Campbell Live, which followed the news opposite Close Up on TV1 and the new Holmes show on Prime. "I like to think that we are genuinely serving the public by doing this work," argued Hirschfeld. "I love working on Campbell Live. There's a sense of moral obligation that's part of being a good journalist, I think."
In mid 2009 Hirschfeld moved to Māori Television to become Head of Programming, bringing down the curtain on an 11 year partnership with John Campbell. Together they'd helped to make Campbell Live one of TV3’s flagship programmes, but Hirschfeld was looking for an alternative to the daily grind of TV journalism. The change allowed her to work more conventional hours, spend time with her two children, and connect with her Māori heritage. As she told E-Tangata, the job would also give her a stark realisation of "how mainstream media failed to represent Māori perspectives at all well", and changed her attitude about how to how to operate in that realm.
After five years at Māori TV — including time as Head of Production — Hirschfeld moved to Radio New Zealand in late 2014. She spent three years as Head of Content before becoming Head of News. Hirschfeld resigned in March 2018, after questions were raised over whether a meeting she'd had with Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran had been official or otherwise.
Profile written by Michael Higgins
Updated on 28 March 2018
Carol Archie, Skin to Skin (Auckland: Penguin Books, 2005)
Judy Bailey, 'Carol Hirschfeld talks about how she has overcome her insecurities' (Interview) - The Australian Women's Weekly, 24 July 2017
Geraldine Johns, ‘Breaking News’ – Metro, April 1998, page 54
Dale Husband, 'Carol Hirschfeld: I love the mission in front of us' (Interview) E-Tangata website. Loaded 14 February 2016. Accessed 27 March 2018
Ian Johnstone, Stand and Deliver (Queen Charlotte Sound: Cape Catley Ltd, 1998)
Kim Knight, ‘A Fresh Slate’ (Interview) - The Sunday Star-Times, 6 September 2009, page C3
Philip Matthews, ‘TV Times’ – The Listener, 8 February 2003, page 16
Jo McCarroll, ‘Working It Out’ - Next, April 2008, page 22
Grant Smithies, ‘The Campbell Livewire’ (Interview) - The Sunday Star Times, 18 November 2007, page E13
Claire Trevett, ‘Campbell and Hirschfeld - It's good night from us’ (Interview) – The NZ Herald, 18 February 2005
Joanna Wane, ‘Carol off Camera’ - Next, June 2005, page 26
Margo White, ‘When the News Becomes News’ – The Listener, 28 February 1998, page 18
Diana Wichtel, ‘Action Stations’ (Interview) - The Listener, 26 March 2005, page 14