Carolyn Robinson followed studies at Otago University with a diploma in journalism at Auckland Institute of Technology (now AUT). While studying she interned at TVNZ, learning the reporting ropes: shorthand, calling police stations at crazy hours of the night, and writing voiceovers for newsreaders Angela D’Audney and Tom Bradley. In a 2016 Spinoff piece she rated her biggest accomplishment of this period as “shot-listing Princess Diana’s entire funeral without bawling.”
A year later, in 1998, she joined the TV3 newsroom. “I turned up at Flower Street [Auckland] with the NZ Herald under my arm. The ink was still smudgy. I had little bits of helvetica on my fingertips, milo on my breath and two sharpened pencils in my satchel. An absolute beginner, I couldn’t imagine needing anything else, ever.”
At TV3 Robinson was mentored in the ways of turn of the century TV news, where journalists processed local and foreign stories off videotape and passionately discussed tautology, faxes, and the art of good reporting and presenting.
“… it was a very good time to be a journalist because everyone loved news. You’d fight for your story – and you knew people would watch. They would gather in their living rooms and insist the kids be quiet – no My Sky rewinds available – and dinner would be arranged around the broadcast. And the internet was still sleeping.”
For seven years Robinson presented late-night news staple Nightline, and recalled being guided by Hilary Barry as she practised her first story (about a pianist who played live accompaniments to silent films). “Our team was small and perfectly formed, with a fierce devotion to a fresh lead story. Fierce too, our devotion to weather music. Authors, musicians, actors, comedians, artists – they were all welcomed. The door was always open to the creative.”
One evening she memorably read Nightline “partially starkers”. There was only a newspaper to protect her modesty while getting into the spirit of a story on a Russian news service, whose point of difference was unclothed newsreaders.
Robinson went on to be weekend news anchor and weekday back-up to Hilary Barry on TV3's primetime bulletin. From her first spot news story (a car accident) she has covered subjects ranging from the Beslan school siege in Russia, the Boxing Day tsunami, the Global Financial Crisis to the victory of US President Barack Obama. In 2016 she rated her most unforgettable story as the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York. After taking a late night call from producer Angus Gillies she spent "the rest of the night on the edge of the couch, cradling the receiver between my dressing gowned-shoulder and my ear as we watched the second plane hit.”
From 2011 Robinson presented two seasons of Top Shelf show What’s Really In Our Food. Overcoming her hatred of peas, the mother of three took on the role of investigating the labels and visiting the farms, factories and laboratories behind producing what we eat. She told the Listener in 2013: “Before I did the show, we always bought free-range meat whenever possible. But since WRIOF, I’ve realised how important a stand it is ... I stopped eating pork after a visit to a mothballed piggery. I was shocked, and there weren’t even animals there.”
In January 2016 ended her 18 year tenure with TV3, after becoming a casualty of restructuring instigated during the administration of TV3 CEO Mark Weldon. In an impassioned piece for The Spinoff written a few months later, Robinson remembered good and bad times at the channel.
One of her final bulletins for 3 News saw her announcing the death of David Bowie. Her producer and long-time mentor Angus Gillies opened the programme with the story. “Not only that, he devoted seven minutes to the story. Plus a special closer. So we could hear him, too. Twitter went off – grief and gratitude in equal measure. It was the most difficult bulletin I’d ever done.”
Veteran TV3 news producer Mark Jennings reflected on Robinson's departure, “She is without a doubt one of the most polished presenters New Zealand has produced. Carolyn always combines precision and authority with warmth — something only the best anchors are able to do.”
Robinson lives in Auckland with her husband and three children.
Profile published on 30 September 2016; updated on 7 June 2019
Carolyn Robinson, ‘Life Before Weldon: Newsreader Carolyn Robinson’s elegy for the glory years of 3 News’, The Spinoff,website. Loaded 11 May 2016. Accessed 7 June 2019
Nightline - 20th Anniversary Episode (Television Programme) NZ On Screen website (TV3, 2010)
Jennifer Bowden, ‘Can mould be good for you? Plus, iEat with Carolyn Robinson’ (Interview) - The Listener, 26 September 2013
Unknown writer, ‘3 News ends, Carolyn Robinson goes’ - The Otago Daily Times, 21 January 2016