Mike McRoberts: Burnout, Going Vegan and Being Judged For The Contents Of His Supermarket Trolley

It’s been a dramatic few years of news and front and centre in our lounges every night is TV3 newsreader Mike McRoberts. At a time when a lot of us are having to monitor our news access for our mental health, what’s it like when knowing the news literally is your job? We talk to Mike about the big lifestyle changes he made during the last couple of years for his mental and physical health and what it’s like being a very public face in Aotearoa. 

How do you keep your head straight, when you’re reporting the news, especially the events of these last few years?

This was unlike any other story that I’ve ever covered. If you go to an earthquake, or a fire, or a tsunami or something like that, then you have the event – and then every day after is one step away from the heat of the initial story. But with COVID of course, it just kept going on and on. And each month seemed to be a different direction, which was quite a nightmare. So it did get me down after a while, I’ve got to say. 

I made the decision that I wouldn’t drink. And that was a big one for me. I’ve got a partner who doesn’t drink too, so that made it easier. I was working so many crazy hours with specials and that kind of thing, and I also needed to be available as my kids needed me. But that decision helped me a lot, and I got out and did a bit more running. I cleared my head with some exercise – nothing too strenuous, but just to remove myself from it all a little bit, to then want to go into work. 

During lockdowns, I went in [to work] there with a purpose. One of the hardest things for people is when they don’t have a purpose – when they aren’t involved and everything seems out of their control. I was lucky in that I was performing a service of sorts – I was delivering the news and passing on vital information. So that helped!

The rules of news that I was taught when I was studying was ‘if it bleeds, it leads’. How has working in a field that does tend to focus on the negative more than the positive affected you over the years?

It can be depressing – you can get through the first break and think, ‘Oh, boy, if I was sitting at home on the sofa watching this show, why would I bother coming back after the commercial break?’ But I was reminded when the war in Ukraine started this year… I mean, I’ve covered a lot of conflicts in my time. And one of the interesting things with covering conflict is that while it’s terrible, terrible news, and often it’s humans at their very worst, you also see humans at their very best as well. And often it’s the way ordinary people have to cope with things. That might be a conflict, or it might be a natural disaster. But there are moments that are inspiring in covering the news. And those are the things that I really look for, and, and those human interest stories. And news has changed quite a bit over the years. With the so much news available to people, the news needs to be more than just what’s happened. We need to look at why it’s happened. That gives you a different perspective and keeps you interested in what’s going on.

You talked about not drinking and I wondered, are there any other rituals that you’ve come to learn work for you?

 Sleep is a biggie –I haven’t always had great sleep. And in fact, it’s still a bit hit and miss for me. I have an active mind! And so when I wake up even slightly, it starts churning through lists of things that I need to do. I’ve tried everything – from reading before bed, to not having any screens or blue light in my room. It generally comes down to balance – it’s a bit of a Catch 22 in that when you’re the most stressed, you sleep the worst [because] you’re running on adrenaline. 

I try and get active once a day – whether it’s a run, or going to the gym, or a walk. I try and stay active and look for goals to achieve. It’s been very hard trying to compete in events over the last couple of years, because most of them have been cancelled. But it gives you a purpose and something to aim for. I turned 56 last month, so the whole ‘use it or lose it’ scenario is very much in my mind these days. 

How important is the connect between physical health and mental health, for you?

It’s huge, it really is. And I was reminded of that just six weeks ago, when I got COVID. Before then, I’d been running every day, which was something I’d never done before. I’ve run about 15 marathons and competed in Ironman and other multi-sports events, but I’ve never run every day. They weren’t huge runs, around the sort of 10k average. But I was running every day, and I actually found it really enjoyable, and I was surprised at how well my body coped with it. 

But then I got COVID and, and while the symptoms weren’t severe, I just I lost all motivation to run and found that the higher-end cardio stuff was really hard. And it’s taken a good five weeks for that to come right. I’ve just been plugging away doing little runs and that kind of thing, but when you’re faced with a period of time, when you can’t exercise the way you’re used to, it is really tough. A few years back, [during] Dancing with the Stars, I’d just blown up my knee – I don’t know whether it’s from overuse or old age or what – but I was limping around like an old man. I had to have cortisone injections to do Dancing with the Stars on a couple of occasions. 

just thought ‘this is terrible. I’m going to be stuck unable to do the things that I love for the rest of my life’. And that’s a long time. So I changed my diet and went vegan. So I’ve been vegan for about two and a half years, which was a big, big decision for me. But it’s helped immeasurably in terms of inflammation and things like that in my joints. It came about when I went to Japan to cover the Rugby World Cup – I’d been over there a couple of weeks and I noticed I wasn’t limping any more, or waking up in severe pain. I realised I hadn’t had dairy in a couple of weeks. Without wanting to sound like a traitor to New Zealand’s highest earners – and it’s not for everyone, and everyone is different – but it has really worked for me. 

I’m sure a lot of people have asked why you’re drinking 0% beers, or why you’re not at eating meat when you’re at a BBQ… what do you say to them?

It’s actually quite easy time to be to be following that kind of lifestyle – and they call it ‘a lifestyle’, rather than ‘a diet’. I found that if I tell them the story about my knee, if they’re interested, and they find it quite fascinating. You know, I’ve got no anecdotal evidence on this but I just wonder, in terms of things like dairy, it’s still quite new to Māori and Pacific people. I’d love to see if there are any studies out there in terms of the effect that has had on health over a couple of generations. 

But I’ve also been a supporter of the dairy industry and the meat industry in New Zealand for years, and used to MC their awards. We’ve got some brilliant, brilliant farmers in New Zealand. And I remember having a conversation at a supermarket where some guy had started to hit me up about what was in my shopping basket, which was basically plant based. It’s like, ‘Oh, come on, Mate. You know, we’ve got we’ve got great produce farmers too.’ So it’s each to their own, you know?

How do you deal with that public-facing side of your job?

Yeah, look, it’s a fascinating thing, actually.  There’s a level of responsibility that comes with my job. This is my 18th year reading the news and so people believe you, they trust what you say. So you’ve got to be pretty careful about what you do say – you can’t be spouting off some madcap theory or whatever. 

Generally, when people come up to me, it’s them wanting to talk to me, rather than wanting to hear my opinion. But I’m always interested to hear what people are thinking and what’s going on. Having said that, I bailed out at social media late last year, after the vaccinations were approved for kids, because I was just absolutely smashed on social media by people who are anti that. And it made me think about social media and what I’ve been doing on it, and what I got from it, and I just made the decision that I kind of had enough. And that’s been awesome. I have so much more time in the day, when I’m not, you know, dead scrolling through Twitter or Instagram.

What’s the one thing you want people to know about being in such an important job for almost 20 years? 

 It’s still a job that I feel incredibly privileged to have. You know, I’ve had so many fantastic colleagues over the years and I never lose sight of the fact that you’re ‘front of house’ for them. They’ve worked all day, or week, or month to produce the story and I’m really proud of the work that we do, and the way we can shine a light on some of the dark spots in society. 

But yeah, the other thing too – especially when you’ve done it for as long as I have – is there are sacrifices that come with that job. You pretty much lose any sense of anonymity. You can still have privacy but you’ve got to work hard at that. But everywhere you go, you’re been watched and you’re being judged. So you know, I guess the one thing, I would say is don’t judge me.

What would you say are the things that have been the hardest for you in the last couple of years?

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve been down to Christchurch to see my family, and that’s been hard. It was the decision I made during COVID, not to do any unnecessary travel and in one of the lockdowns, I missed my grandmother’s funeral, which was really hard. 

You lose some of the connections. Zoom’s fine, but it’s not quite the same as giving your best friend a hug when they need it or vice versa. So it’s been hard, but it’s also been a good reset time, too. And I’ve certainly used it as that. I’ve spent the time that I’m not on social media getting back into my career, which has been really good and it’s made me realise, with fitness and everything else that I’ve done, or had a little bit of success with over the years, it’s just come with hard work, and making it a habit. It’s never about the distance. It’s just about the frequency. As Arthur Lydiard once famously said, the hardest thing about the hardest thing about running is putting on the shorts. 

What are you most grateful for today?

I’m grateful for my family and friends around me, I’m about to pop out and watch my 22-year old-son play a game of rugby. Then I’ll probably pop around and see my daughter who’s in her second year of university. As a father, I think that’s the probably the thing I’m most proud of, the sense of accomplishment to get two kids through to adulthood and to see them prosper and live life and love life, I’ve got a wonderful partner. So life’s pretty good, I’ve got to say, and I’ve got a big smile on my face, just thinking about that now. 

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