Jenny Brockie: Hosting Insight

Hosting Insight, Jenny Brockie has to contend with a live audience, untested talent, dozens of storylines and, often, very emotional subject matter.


Filming a show about people whose lives had been saved by a stranger recently, she cried. "There's a moment in that show when I got very teary and had to ask the floor manager for a tissue, and I felt deeply embarrassed. Because it's not about me."

An organ recipient meeting the donor's family for the first time would make many of us choke up. "And it was so moving because the emotions and the feelings were so complex, and it was such a beautiful meeting ... because they, they were, um, I'm getting teary again now. I'm struggling for the words. They found a way of connecting that was really profound and meaningful. It was almost like the rest of us were just witnesses."

She says it's a privilege to witness that kind of interaction, "an insight into human frailty and the human condition".Inspiration for work in the media came early on, from a friend of the family who talked about a job that involved travelling the world, meeting people and telling their stories. "I couldn't quite get my head around the fact you could do this for a living."

After studying literature and communications at uni, Brockie earnt her stripes in news and political reporting as well as documentary making, followed by a stint of investigative reporting with Four Corners. She won a Gold Walkley award for a feature-length documentary called Cop It Sweet, about Sydney's Redfern police, as well as several United Nations Media Peace Awards, two AFIs, a Logie and a Human Rights Award for her work on the program.

"I think where I've landed is where I absolutely belong, in a room with a live audience asking them about their stories and what's happened to them."

The program shines a light on issues from kids' sports injuries and the cost of living through to the profound, such as organ donation and teenage drug addiction. There is no shortage of subject matter.

The show has a simple premise: it's about people and their stories. That's what drew Brockie to it in 2001, when it was a magazine format current affairs program. In 2014, the panel style was adopted. Initially a lot more experts were featured but it has evolved to draw on firsthand experience - which is what makes it so compelling. She's passionate about this emphasis, saying "those first-person stories are what connect people to other people".

The Insight role involves guiding the conversation but also honing in on what's yet to come. To this day, she's not sure exactly how to describe it.


"You're in the moment but you've also got a bit of vision over the horizon. But you also need very good peripheral vision, watching what's going on in the room. And every room is different, the dynamics are different," she says. "You're part journalist, part mediator, part ringmaster and small part very amateur psychologist - with the emphasis on amateur. "

"The best outcome for me is when someone says 'I watched your show and my husband and I had a long discussion about [it] and we have opposing ideas about it'. You get people pulling different things from it. We're not trying to preach to anyone."

Many forum shows in the past have gone straight for conflict. "I say it's not about conflict, it's about contrast. And people can disagree with one another but I expect that they should disagree well rather than badly."

"Nuance is so much more interesting than black and white… all the little kinks and turns and twists in people's thinking and how they arrive at the positions they do, how they justify their behaviour or even just what their life story has been. It's so much more interesting than polarity."

For each program, the producers go down a rabbit hole, exploring as many angles as possible around a designated topic. They find people in all sorts of ways. For the drug-testing show recently they went to dance festivals to source interviewees; social media has proven helpful with shoutouts about particular topics.

"It's all about the preparing. If I was to walk in feeling underprepared I would not be good at what I do. I rely a lot on immersing myself in that reading beforehand."


The show's success in part rests on Brockie's ability to empathise; she's a warm presence. "It's not a show where you can mask very much because you're thinking on your feet, you're reacting spontaneously to things. You have to bring yourself to the show."

At pains to point out it's a team effort, she emphasises that the lengthy research process before recording is critical.

"A lot of legwork goes into that, by a lot of other people. I know everybody goes on about teams, but in my case I stand on some very, very great shoulders and they do a lot of the legwork. They find the people, they gain their trust and then they hand that to me … and it's my job to make the most of that. My job is to get it all to mesh together. I think crediting that is terribly important because they wouldn't trust me if they hadn't trusted the process that led to me being with them in the studio."


That said, her interest in people and their stories shines through. Her daughter used to complain that she'd interview her friends when they came over for dinner. She has a daughter and a step-son, both in their 30s. In her downtime, Brockie loves to cook – she'll often watch MasterChef to help wind down after a show – and the AFL. Introduced to the game by an Englishman, she's a Sydney Swans ambassador and has had the same seats at the SCG for 24 years.

Emotions run high during the filming, as is apparent in the watching. "There is life and death involved and people who have had family killed and people with opposing views. In those scenarios the stakes are high and of course people get upset."

On occasion, people reveal things on the show they've never spoken about before. "Sometimes we have people in the room who say things we didn't know they were going to say. People might be motivated by all sorts of things. Sometimes I think it's easier to make a public statement," she says.

"We've had people say 'I haven't told my parents yet' and I say 'Well, you have now. How do you feel about that?'"