News wor­thy

Peter Mitchell has notched up 30 years in tele­vi­sion and nearly eight in the newsreader’s chair, writes Siob­han Duck

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YOU can try all you like, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find any­one in TV who’ll bag Peter Mitchell. Mitchell has clocked up 30 years in a no­to­ri­ously cut-throat busi­ness, but he’s some­how man­aged to reach the mile­stone without ruf­fling feathers.

It’s some achieve­ment when you con­sider there have been times his fu­ture in the Chan­nel 7 news­read­ing chair ap­peared any­thing but as­sured.

When he re­placed David Johnston as the week­night news an­chor at the end of 2000, Chan­nel 9 was steam­rolling Chan­nel 7 in the rat­ings. Mitchell faced con­stant spec­u­la­tion, of­ten fu­elled by peo­ple within his own net­work, that he was also for the chop.

The turn­ing point came in 2005 when Nine’s winning mar­gin was re­duced to fewer than 100,000 view­ers.

‘‘They could eas­ily have given me the boot. Thank­fully, Seven elected to not make more changes (to the news line-up). That was af­ter strong ad­vice to stop chop­ping and chang­ing,’’ Mitchell says.

Seven Mel­bourne news di­rec­tor Steve Carey says Mitchell is a big rea­son for Seven’s re­cent news resur­gence.

‘‘He’s a huge part of it. Mitch has grown into the job. He’s an old style news­man. In the field, he’s un­beat­able and I re­spect the man’s abil­ity to have an in­put into the bul­letin,’’ Carey says.

It isn’t the first time Mitchell has had to over­come the doubters. Twenty years ago he went through a sim­i­lar trial when peo­ple warned him against join­ing Seven.

Mitchell says peo­ple told him he was crazy to leave Nine’s news­room, then the out­right lead­ing news net­work and where he had worked as a gen­eral news and sports re­porter since 1977, to be­come Seven’s week­end newsreader in 1988.

Now Seven, tele­vi­sion’s news brides­maid for so many years, is beat­ing Nine in the rat­ings game. With less than a week of 2008’s of­fi­cial rat­ings to go, Seven’s week­night news has av­er­aged 395,224 view­ers in Mel­bourne to Nine’s 375,001.

‘‘It’s par­tic­u­larly great be­cause it’s been a long time com­ing,’’ Mitchell says of the rat­ing suc­cess.

‘‘It’s great for all the peo­ple at Seven who have been there a lot longer than me. Every­one has been walk­ing around with smiles on their faces.’’

Mitchell says the me­dia has al­ways been keen to put a per­sonal face on the rat­ings ri­valry be­tween Seven and Nine.

To them, it’s Peter Mitchell v Peter Hitch­ener — Mitch v Hitch — but Mitchell in­sists he gets on very well with Nine’s week­night news an­chor.

He jokes that he boasted dur­ing a speech at a lo­cal school of plot­ting to let down Hitch­ener’s car tyres.

‘‘It’s not re­ally Mitch v Hitch. We get on well when I see him at func­tions,’’ he says.

De­spite Mitchell’s ea­ger­ness to share credit for the climb­ing rat­ings, there is no ques­tion that he is a large part of Seven’s cur­rent news suc­cess.

The clos­est to crit­i­cism Mitchell has come was from Nova 100’s Kate Lang­broek, who took ex­cep­tion to a wry re­mark about Sex & the City made by the vet­eran newsreader while de­liv­er­ing a story about the movie.

But Mitchell’s harm­less re­mark — he was per­plexed by the se­ries’ pop­u­lar­ity with women— is per­haps in­dica­tive of some­thing deeper.

He would pre­fer there to be less em­pha­sis on tabloid favourites Brit­ney Spears, Lind­say Lo­han and Paris Hil­ton and more on the im­por­tant so­cial and po­lit­i­cal events that are shap­ing the world.

‘‘It’s im­por­tant to have a mix (of sto­ries). The en­ter­tain­ment side of things has be­come more prom­i­nent but . . . you have to have bal­ance,’’ he says.

No re­grets: Seven news an­chor Peter Mitchell doesn’t re­gret his long-ago move from Nine.

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