Emile Donovan is the co-host of Newsable, Stuff’s newish podcast that presents the news – hard and ‘soft’ – each weekday at 6am. With Imogen Wells, the series features short and sharp episodes (around 20 minutes) with a range of stories, interviews and analysis. It's a deliberately diverse mix: a recent episode focused on Succession, nuclear power, the impacts of unemployment and AI models.
The experienced reporter, who previously worked at Māori Television and Radio New Zealand and co-hosted Newsroom/RNZ’s podcast The Detail, unsurprisingly has an equally diverse list of places where he gets his news, from traditional news sites to social media and more.
Emile's earliest internet memory – Neopets – will resonate with those of a certain age too; he jokes that it saw him develop, “a mild gambling addiction from Poogle Racing at the age of 8”. He shares the rest of his regular digital diet, with lots of beloved sport chat and a love/hate relationship with social media.
What sites do you visit regularly/daily? And do you visit them directly or via other means?
I’ll wake up, check Twitter, check Stuff, check the other NZ news websites and some big international sites (The Guardian, Daily Mail, NYT, Fox, AP, Irish Times). I try to get a decent ideological cross-section in there so I don’t have a blinkered idea of what people’s positions on subjects are.
I subscribe to a couple of Substacks (Dylan Cleaver’s The Bounce, Bernard Hickey’s The Kākā). Always head to the NSFW-sounding but very G-rated Arseblog.com to get the latest on my football team the mighty Arsenal FC. Reddit is always good for incongruity and a bit of a laugh.
Where and how do you typically get your news?
Everywhere. In terms of international stuff, Twitter is great for breaking news and developments, and also for takes on more local stories (though you have to be aware that Twitter is very much not Real Life). The above news sites as well of course. Reddit is excellent for more offbeat stories.
It’s very fun going to NZ sites and digging into the areas that don’t tend to get too much homepage love, local news sites and so on. RNZ has a very good website, Newsroom is excellent for deep-analysis thematic stuff.
I listen to the radio a decent amount, mostly RNZ, ZB from time to time. I don’t really watch TV news these days, we only have Chromecast at home.
Podcasts! There are so many. Tell me your thoughts, and favourites… and where and how you listen to them?
I use podcasts as a way of filling space in the day - normally I’ll crank one on in the morning when I bike to work… also if I have time to nip out for lunch, also when I’m biking home from work in the evening…
I do most of the cooking at home so I’ll pod when I’m whipping something up there too, and if not making dinner then while doing the dishes. Probably listen for an hour or so every day? In terms of WHAT – the mighty Newsable is first up of course. I listen to a lot of sports stuff, mainly football. Second Captains is a great podcast, The Athletic has a fantastic array of pods on all sorts of different sports.
I like daily news pods too, RNZ’s The Detail is great, the NYT’s The Daily, and Global Media’s The News Agents as well. This American Life is absolutely wonderful, although it’s more for weekends as it’s so long. Nine to Noon’s politics segment is excellent. Gone By Lunchtime from The Spinoff is great.
My partner Ximena is the podcast reviewer for Stuff so I’m never short of suggestions on this score. She recommended a really good one recently called Shrink The Box, where an actor and a psychiatrist get together and psychoanalyse famous TV sociopaths like Omar Little and Tony Soprano, terrific stuff.
The last story/link/meme/post you shared (and where did you share it)?
A snippet from the 2003 film Brotherhood of the Wolf, shared on Twitter. Top five all-time movie, a magnificent French genre mash-up with Monica Bellucci and the Iron Chef America host Mark Dacoscos chewing gum and kickin' ass and he’s all outta gum. Highly recommend.
How many group chats are you in? What’s the name of the most active or the funniest?
Haha. A few. The most enjoyable one is probably Come on in! - a group chat with a couple of mates dedicated to Survivor, greatest of all reality TV shows.
Have you ever had a blog?
No, though I did try to buy a domain name once, ExpletiveLadenDrivel.com. It was more expensive than I’d hoped. No idea what the blog was going to be about. Not convinced it would’ve been a success.
Social media gets a lot of bad press. What do you love about it? What do you dislike?
I am very much addicted to social media, I consider this a character flaw but one that I’m aware of and that is kinda necessary in this line of work. As such I have a tortured relationship with it where I love it but I think it’s probably bad for me/us if you did the sums. Anyway!
Love: the imagination, humour, surprise, inventiveness. I like that you can expose yourself to different people and points of view. But I think you have to be wary about seeing social media as resembling what ‘actual people think’ about things. Take what you see on there with a grain of salt. It’s a tool, a powerful tool, but a tool that we can control.
Hate: anger, pettiness, bad faith arguments, disingenuousness, strawman arguments, the way it seems to utterly dominate some people’s existence, failure to keep it in perspective.
What’s your approach to Instagram?
Loathe it. I have a page, it has no pic, no posts, and I only follow my mum and my girlfriend. I think it is bad for the world.
Are you on TikTok? What’s on your FYP?
Yes I am but oh god I haven’t used my TikTok in about two years. It would be a mess by now. I think when I was using TikTok it figured out very quickly that I liked those quick-cut first-person cooking videos and started absolutely pummeling me with them and I LOVED it, I made this potato soup with bacon bits that called for an entire punnet of cream cheese. Disgusting, delicious.
But I kinda also think TikTok is bad. You may reasonably ask me to justify my POV here, I think it boils down to: Insta invites comparisons between your entire life and curated snapshots of someone else’s; TikTok … oh god, just … I dunno. Ick. Very funny sometimes though. Yes I understand these are not especially robust arguments.
What was the last TikTok video you liked or shared?
Boring answer, but it would’ve been a Newsable vid where I try to explain why there’s rioting in Paris.
Do you use Twitter?
Haha. Yes, I use Twitter a lot. Mainly I lurk and browse, I don’t really like getting into serious conversations on Twitter, the character limits mean it incentivises bluntness, sensationalism, provocation, hyperbole, massaged truths. If you want to be nuanced you have to go on one of those 50-tweet tangents and oh god, give it a rest or go write a blog post.
So in terms of my own personal posting, mainly jokes, sport stuff, movie stuff, music stuff, Simpsons references. I like to praise good journalistic work I see other people do but I tend to do that in DMs rather than in public. I’m quite a private person in a lot of ways, despite the job.
In terms of how I use it as an observer: ravenously. It’s fantastic for news, finding out about stories, asking people for interviews, finding out who experts on different areas are, finding funny shit, enlightening shit, depressing shit.
How about Facebook?
Older rellies mainly. Also once in a while I’ll be reminded of an old mate from high school and be like ‘oh I wonder what they’re up to these days’ and search them up on FB and it’s like whoa you’re married with two kids now, wild.
Are you on any other platforms? Discord, BeReal, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc.
I’m on Discord as part of an Arsenal subscription I have that uses the app as its contact point for questions, bonus content etc. – also have Telegram for encrypted messaging stuff but I haven’t used that in ages either
What about online forums like Reddit - are you a user?
Yes, Reddit is great once you’ve curated your feed, lots of very funny and interesting stuff on there and I get quite a few story ideas from there too. But mainly I use it for… timewasting, entertainment.
It’s interesting, I’m a bit torn on this as I reflect while writing my answers: many of these platforms I use as a time-sink, you know? While I’m on the bus or waiting for the barber or in the bathroom! - and so in a sense … they’re bringing some small enjoyment to the otherwise rather mundane activity of waiting. And in those situations there isn’t so much of an opportunity cost, so hey, all’s well.
But they are nefarious too! - sometimes I find myself checking Twitter while I’m watching a TV show, or eating dinner, the act of opening them up is almost second nature now. And those DO have opportunity cost.
I think social media and my lack of discipline in regulating my use of it has certainly made it more difficult to focus intensely on a single thing. But that extends out to platforms themselves too: back in the day you’d get a DVD out from the store and you’d watch it, because it’s the DVD you had. Now, I spend half an hour browsing a streaming site for what I wanna watch and then when I make a decision I end up second-guessing it half the time.
Same with music and Spotify, I tend to enjoy new *songs* these days, more so than artists or albums. I suppose the common thread between all these things is there are so many CHOICES now that it can be a bit paralysing. Christ, this has gone a bit off-piste hasn’t it, what was the question again?
Who is the person that follows you that you’re most excited about?
That’s a good question. Helen Clark maybe? I admire her a lot. Melanie Bracewell? Robbie Nicol? I like and admire both of them.
Maybe excitement-wise it’d be Matt Spiro, who writes about French football. I have absolutely no clue why he follows me, which is quite fun. I don’t get that excited by followers because the act of following is very easy and brings zero commitment. More excited by having good personal relationships with people I like and admire.
Have you ever made a meme or had a proud viral moment?
Are you interested in the Metaverse?
Sort of. I think the whole virtual reality/augmented reality thing will probably be the next major leap in immersion when it comes to entertainment. But I think sophisticated execution of that is probably a long way off and early iterations like the Metaverse won’t bear much resemblance to what it’ll actually look like. Metaverse feels a bit gimmicky. I like the idea of floating pods that you’d enter and be transported to a virtual world, first-person, video game-style, or like in Avatar. But again, I think that’s a long way off.
What about NFTs?
How do you feel about AI and ChatGPT?
Fascinated. I think the ability of AI to take over and perform tasks humans expend a lot of time or energy on will tell us a lot about where we are at on a societal level. On one hand it could be used to liberate people, bring more egality to how humankind is structured and works on the hive-level.
On the other… well, of course it’ll be appropriated by people who will make lots of money out of it, I don’t think that’s inherently bad at all, but I do think that… it raises interesting philosophical questions: what gives people purpose? For a lot of us it IS work, or performing tasks repeatedly. Feeling needed. BEING needed.
It could present devastating questions around self-actualization and what the point of living is. Which sounds a bit bleak. Do you know what I mean? This is a hard question to answer satisfyingly.
What is your phone?
What was the last screenshot you took?
A photo a mate sent me of the Hyde St keg party in 2012. O the passage of time.
Please share a screenshot of your phone’s home screen.
Your four most used emojis?
Laugh cry. Normal cry. Love heart. Shrug.
Your YouTube go-to?
Lots of cooking, snooker, football, music.
Your favourite or most-played Spotify playlist?
I have a playlist I created in 2019 called Summer2.0, I was hosting an RNZ show over the summer and used it as a dumping ground for potential songs to play and eventually just evolved into a general ‘good songs’ playlist I keep adding to, like an eternal stew.
It’s an eclectic mix, a bit of Mogwai, Stone Roses, Johnny Jewel, Velvet Underground, Nick Cave, Groove Armada, Bach, Nas, Yo La Tengo. Something for everyone!
What’s the best streaming service?
Neon is good. DisneyPlus is good too, though this is heavily influenced by The Simpsons. But I have to say TVNZ’s OnDemand service is absolute dynamite these days, they have done a terrific job curating their content and I don’t think they get enough pats on the back for that.
Newsletters are the future, apparently. How many do you subscribe to? And how many do you pay for?
I subscribe to quite a few, I’d say… seven or eight? Newsable's newsletter. I pay for The Kākā, Second Captains and The Bounce.
Do you game? What do you play, and how often?
Yes, I like big AAA open world games and nerdy grand strategy games. Sid Meier’s Civ series is fantastic. Really enjoyed Elden Ring. Red Dead Redemption II was great. I have bought every edition of Football Manager since 2007.
How do you shop online? Do you have favourite sites and/or apps?
Yes, vape juice and some food stuff. I bulk-buy Old Spice body wash and deodorant off Amazon because it’s hard to find in NZ; I have an Old Spice drawer in the bathroom, oh god what am I saying.
Clothes, sometimes, but I’ve been burned by ASOS before and now I much prefer to try stuff on before I buy it.
How many emails do you typically receive in a day?
About… 15-20 I’d say?
What’s your email sign off?
What was your screen time last week?