From television presenter to lawyer: Linda Clark’s fascinating career moves


A once-familiar face and voice across the nation, Linda Clark is now more likely to appear in court than on the television news, having swapped the world of journalism for the law.

Words: Lee-Anne Duncan

1969–1983: Liverpool to Christchurch

Having arrived in Christchurch from Liverpool with her mother and New Zealand stepfather, five-year-old Linda set about losing her Liverpudlian accent. “My mother says I lost it in about two months. I’ve always had a strong New Zealand accent, and I think that’s about trying to assimilate quickly.”

She was from “good working-class stock” — no one in Linda’s family had been to university, and she had no ambition for herself. “But I had fantastic teachers, a couple of really strong women, and they were ambitious for me. As a schoolgirl in the 1970s, the only career options put in front of us were teaching and nursing. Air New Zealand visited looking for air hostesses, but I was too tall and skinny. So that knocked me out.”

Instead, she went to the University of Canterbury to study politics. “I was always interested in politics and arguing about politics. Then the Springbok Tour came along.” Linda managed to get herself arrested, making her first court appearance — that time in the dock — before being discharged without conviction.

1984–1989: University to television 

Now, with a BA in politics, Linda stayed on at university for the post-graduate diploma in journalism. “I don’t know what made me think of journalism. I liked the idea of feature writing, but Brian Priestley, who taught the course, pointed me to news — especially political news. I have always felt strongly that no matter your circumstances, everyone has the same power at the ballot box, so a journalist’s job is to ensure everyone can be well informed about how to use their vote.”

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After a nine-month stint at the Manawatu Evening Standard, Linda got herself to Wellington, where boyfriend — now husband — Alan Doak lived and signed on with The New Zealand Times. It was a “life-changing” job, where she met several influential journalists. “I was like a sponge in the best possible place.”

Post the 1987 crash, The New Zealand Times folded, and Linda moved to the Parliamentary Press Gallery, writing for the National Business Review. “It was horrific. I hated it. It was male-dominated, and you were always out of place as
a young woman. It was completely different when I returned only a few years later.”

1989–1999: Political newbie to political editor 

A chance lunch with an old Times colleague coaxed Linda onto TVNZ’s current affairs programme, Frontline. She started as a researcher, quickly moving in front of the camera. Then, sensing that Frontline would be canned, she asked to move to daily news. “I went to the Wellington newsroom and quickly back to the gallery, where I soon saw the value in having not coped very well the first time. Now I was back, more mature, and with a bit more experience.”

A year later, after the 1990 election, Linda became TVNZ’s political editor. The role gave her the freedom to pursue what attracted her to journalism, and she rarely had a day without filing a story, covering most of the big news events of the 1990s. So, leading up to the 1999 election, she signaled she wanted a change. “I was in my mid-late 30s. Alan and I wanted children, but I couldn’t see how I could do that and still be a political editor.”

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2000–2006: Political editor to print editor

With nothing to go to, Linda resigned, something she describes as “sort of terrifying, but I backed myself that something would come up”. It did. Kate Coughlan, who later founded and continues to helm this magazine, rang and said, “Come edit a magazine.”

Linda moved to Auckland, beginning the new millennium at Grace, charged with injecting more current affairs and politics alongside the usual fashion, culture and arts. But just as they put the Christmas 2000 issue to bed, the magazine was summarily shuttered. “That was the worst day of my career. I loved that job. It would have succeeded — it just needed a bit more time.”

Linda had been keeping her hand in at TVNZ, hosting Face the Nation, a weekly current-affairs show. TVNZ gave her the late news, which she read during 2001. “That’s the only job I think I’ve done badly. I wasn’t a natural newsreader. It was so not my cup of tea.”

That year, Linda became pregnant with her twin boys — now 20 — and gracefully exited news reading. Not long after the boys’ birth, Radio New Zealand’s Kim Hill decided to step from Nine to Noon to the Saturday Morning programme. Linda was prompted to apply, got the job and moved back to Wellington.

2006–2022: From broadcasting to the bar

With her boys now nearly five, and as much as she loved Nine to Noon, Linda was ready for her next move. “I was 40-something and needed to find a job I wanted to do for another 25 years. I’d done first-year law and liked it. So, when the kids went to school, I went to university and worked part-time for law firm Chapman Tripp.”

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Linda received her practising certificate in 2012, moved to Dentons Kensington Swan in 2014, and made partner in 2020. It was a swift rise, but life experience counts. “I’ve worked hard, but my life experience is what clients like.”

LIFE LESSONS

Don’t stand still. “Changing up is so good for you. It shakes you up; it challenges you. It puts you in different situations. You meet different people and have different experiences.”

Don’t worry about status. “When I was on Frontline and went to the newsroom, people thought I was bonkers. When I quit the press gallery without a job, people thought I had a midlife crisis. When they discovered I was going to a women’s magazine, they thought I was having a breakdown. When I left Chapman Tripp, some people told me I’d never get good work again. How wrong they were. Not worrying about how others perceive your path brings opportunities.”

Choose the right life partner. “Alan has never been anything but perpetually supportive and optimistic that whatever I tried would work out.”

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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