An exciting development took place this week at Parliament, for media people at least, with the return of the so-called 'bridge run' to the 1st floor foyer of Parliament House.
This place is referred to as 'the tiles' because of its black and white chessboard floor layout. The bridge run is a long-standing convention on days that Parliament is sitting, when MPs - particularly ministers and party leaders - stop on their way to the House when it is about to begin, in order to answer questions from press gallery reporters in an informal ‘standup’ press conference format.
For much of the past two years, due to social distancing requirements in the pandemic, the bridge run has taken place in the Grand Hall, which adjoins the foyer near Parliament’s debating chamber. But this week, the run returned to the tiles, and this has been warmly welcomed by the Press Gallery because - let’s face it - it looks cooler there and fits well with the chess of parliamentary politics.
Thomas Coughlan, a senior political reporter with the New Zealand Herald, said it was symbolically nice to return to a location that is core to the country’s political reporting.
“There is a nostalgia and a certain aesthetic kind of thing that the tiles have been a feature of political reporting for my whole life, I think,” he said.
“The sound is beautiful. It’s in the middle of this atrium which goes up three storeys to this glass ceiling, and it produces this really kind of iconic sound which you didn’t get when you were in the grand hall.”
The Grand Hall has a feel quite distinct to the tiles, with a different light and a sound space not always helpful for media.
“The issue has been that, one, it’s very difficult to hear - we’ve got a lot of TV and radio people and the acoustics are terrible in there, and it’s really hard for us to hear them,” Coughlan explained.
“And also because the Grand Hall is in a slightly different place in Parliament, fewer MPs and ministers have been coming across the bridge, so there’s been more of a focus on big names in politics, those ministers and party leaders, and less of a focus on the 120 MPs who make up the Parliament.”
Being there on the tiles is such an essential ritual that Coughlan named his own politics podcast after it.
“What I quite like about ‘On the Tiles’ is that this is a political phrase that only means what it means in this country, and when someone says something ‘on the tiles’ - and granted I don’t think most New Zealanders would understand what you mean - but a significant number of people who read, listen and watch political news would know what ‘on the tiles’ means.”
Above all, according to Coughlan, the bridge run tradition is something that deserves to be protected, as few countries provide media with such regular access to elected representatives and the opportunity to apply scrutiny on government that New Zealand does.