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BusinessAugust 28, 2023

What happened to Wellington – Live?


Wellington – Live began in 2015 as a Facebook page for important notices about Wellington and its people. In 2021, the page was taken over by a new owner, and many followers aren’t happy with the changes they’ve seen. Janhavi Gosavi investigates.

In May 2023, after a fatal fire broke out at Loafers Lodge in Newtown, many Wellingtonians were frantically trying to locate their loved ones and those known to live in the building. Posts went up on social media looking to confirm the whereabouts of Mike the Juggler (Michael Wahrlich), a well known street personality who lived in the lodge. In the days following the fire, the Wellington – Live Facebook page posted a photo of Wahrlich to its 253,000 followers with the caption: “Fantastic news. Mike survived the fire.” The post prompted an outpouring of relief from Wellingtonians.

On May 22 it was confirmed that Wahrlich was one of the five victims of the fire. Wellington – Live had posted misinformation. Readers who had come to rely on the page for news about the city were outraged. How had this misreporting happened?

It wasn’t the only time Wellington – Live had posted questionable material, but it seemed to be happening more regularly and the Wahrlich example spurred the most emotional response. For some time, Wellingtonians had shared their concerns about the page on other platforms. Reddit threads began popping up late last year with titles like “What’s going on with the Wellington – Live Facebook page?”, “Wellington – Live un appreciation post” and “Remember when Wellington – Live used to be good?”

So what happened to the most popular Facebook page in the city? 

A collection of Reddit threads

Lilia Alexander, concerned Wellingtonian

Wellington – Live was originally called Wellington Floods 2015 Live. When the capital city flooded in May of 2015, 17-year-old Lilia Alexander swiftly responded to her community’s needs, creating a Facebook page to consolidate live updates. Overnight, the page amassed 16,000 likes.

After the floods ceased, Alexander’s following continued to grow. She saw an opportunity to keep Wellingtonians informed about important events happening in their city, so she renamed the page Wellington – Live and posted about the city daily. As the page grew, Alexander developed her own do’s and don’t’s of community social media. 

Do: post photos of sunrises/sunsets, share scenic walks and hidden waterfalls, highlight public events and tourist-friendly spots. 

Don’t: swear, be political, post anything defamatory about a person or business, or post photos or graphic details about accidents or deaths. 

Running Wellington – Live, Alexander’s biggest “do” was to be live all of the time, effectively acting as a news bulletin during emergency events. 

“There would be an earthquake and I would post about it while the earthquake was happening, sharing advice about aftershocks,” says Alexander, now 25 years old. She says she would only repost earthquake information from reliable sources, like the Civil Defence website. 

A year and a half into running the page, Alexander started monetising it by partnering up with local businesses and tourism agencies to promote events and activities. Running Wellington – Live became her full-time job and revenue growth was slow but steady. 

At its peak, Wellington – Live posts regularly brought in thousands of likes and comments on Facebook. During an average week, it reached 300,000-600,000 people. If a big event or natural disaster occurred, that number could shoot up to a million people, more than twice the population of the entire Wellington region. It was, undoubtedly, one of the most active and popular social media pages in the country.

After six years of running Wellington – Live by herself, Alexander was burnt out. She was one person doing the job of multiple people: manager, content creator, editor, sponsorships coordinator. Alexander says she did not receive many complaints about how she ran the page and felt a lot of pressure to do right by her followers. 

“I was too scared to go to parties or let anyone get a hold of my phone in case they posted something on the page,” she says. 

Alexander was also operating and moderating Wellington – Live – Community, a different page with its own large following which allowed any member of the community to post content.

She was ready to move on to new business ventures and decided to sell the Wellington – Live company, including all its social media accounts and assets. She approached Wellington City Council and Wellington NZ, organisations she had previously collaborated with, but both weren’t interested in buying. 

Graham Bloxham and Jason Buckley were her third choice. 

The two business partners had a start-up and were working with their team to build a tourism app called Wellington In Your Pocket. They said they wanted to buy Wellington – Live and use its large following to align with their upcoming app’s offering. They also offered to buy Explore Local NZ, another large social media page she had founded.

Alexander was told the start-up was still raising funds from investors, so Bloxham and Buckley would each buy 50% of Wellington – Live and sell it back to their business once it had enough capital. 

At the time of sale, Wellington – Live had 237,000 followers. Alexander said she wanted Wellington – Live to go to a tourism company “rather than a random individual”. She believed a tourism company would have “stronger responsibility and commitment” to running the page in a “positive manner” that promoted Wellington, whereas an individual person might use it “purely for their own intentions”. 

In July 2021 she sold Wellington – Live and Explore Local NZ to Bloxham and Buckley for $80,000 + 2% of their holding company. By October 2021, Bloxham had bought out Buckley and owned 100% of Wellington – Live. 

Two years later, Wellington – Live still has hundreds of thousands of followers, but it’s not the community it once was. 

Graham Bloxham, concerned Wellingtonian

Before purchasing Wellington – Live, Graham Bloxham caught the attention of Wellingtonians through a different medium: billboards. 

In 2010, Stuff reported that Bloxham, now 55 years old, paid $1,500 for a billboard which denounced the single transferable voting system and mourned former mayor of Wellington Kerry Prendergast being voted out of council. “It took five losers to unseat Kerry – RIP democracy Wellys!” it read. The billboard was taken down hours later at Prendergast’s request. 

In 2016, Bloxham paid for anti-Labour billboards that attacked Labour’s mayoral candidate Justin Lester, who went on to become mayor of Wellington. 

Bloxham was evidently concerned with the city and how it operated. And in 2021, he offered to purchase the most popular community page in Wellington. Once the sale went through in July 2021, Alexander agreed to operate the page for a further six months as part of a handover. 

After her six months were up, Alexander handed Bloxham the admin rights to Wellington – Live. 

The tone shift

Bloxham’s Wellington – Live was a big departure from the page that Alexander had carefully cultivated. Alexander was widely known as the owner of Wellington – Live but wasn’t very visible on the page, only introducing herself in 2015 and including her name in photo credits. Bloxham was hands-on, posting photos and videos of himself on the page, presenting as a pseudo reporter, and commenting on posts from his personal Facebook account. 

Alexander was vigilant when posting about tragic news or deaths. She regularly received tips from the public and would ask for proof before posting about them. 

“If I wasn’t sure about something [that was] breaking news, I would wait for a bigger media outlet to break the story … False information ruins trust and it ruins the page,” says Alexander. 

On June 15, 2023, under Bloxham’s guidance, Wellington – Live announced the death of a student at a Victoria University of Wellington hall of residence by posting an internal university email to the public. A university staff member criticised Wellington – Live for posting prematurely and not sharing links to helplines alongside the post, calling it “tasteless”. 

And there was, of course, the highly emotional response to Wellington – Live incorrectly posting that Mike the Juggler had survived the Loafers Lodge fire.

Just this month, Wellington – Live created a Facebook event for fireworks and food trucks to celebrate the Fifa Women’s World Cup. It listed Wellington – Live as the host of the event and invited followers to join in the festivities. In reality, the event was funded and organised by Wellington City Council. 

The council says Wellington – Live was not a co-host of the event but that they were aware of the duplicate event page and “members of the public were pointing it out” so chose not to respond publicly.

In June 2023, the council did publicly call out the page for “incorrect information” after Bloxham posted a video of himself claiming Wellington City Council was planning to purchase the carpark building behind Reading Cinemas (it wasn’t, said the council). 

Graham Bloxham features in a Wellington – Live post

Also in June 2023, two employees of Traffic Flow Limited received threats of violence after being incorrectly accused of being aggressive and damaging a car in a post on Wellington – Live Community, which currently has 93.4k members. 

“With a big audience like [Wellington – Live] has, there should be a big responsibility,” said a Traffic Flow spokesperson at the time, who was concerned with how large social media pages could lead to defamation. The company asked for an amendment and an apology. Bloxham took down the post but did not post an amendment or apologise to the staff members involved. 

Bloxham had a history of strong political opinions. So while Alexander refused to post about politics, Wellington – Live under Bloxham became increasingly political. Anti-cycleway posts, interviews with politicians, and livestreams of the 2022 parliament protests were all posted on the page. 

In 2022, Bloxham was paid by Hutt mayoral candidate Tony Stallinger to conduct a video interview with him to post on the Wellington – Live page. Bloxham did so, and posted the interview in a post titled “Mayor Barry cancels interview at last minute”, referring to Stallinger’s competitor. He did not put an authorisation statement on the post because he says he wrote it “independently”. Stallinger commented at the time that in fact it was Bloxham who had approached him for an interview. 

Alexander was hyperconscious of criticism and actively read all of the comments she received for years. She “didn’t want anyone to say the page was a sell-out” so she aimed to only advertise things she might have posted about anyway. Bloxham was not afraid of negative comments and once used the Wellington – Live account to tell a critic to “fuck off”. 

Bloxham appears on 1News after an altercation while filming at the parliament protests in 2022

Pretty soon, Wellingtonians were posting on Reddit to express their dissatisfaction with Bloxham’s Wellington – Live. One user said there was a “severe lack of quality in their reporting … posts are often now increasingly political, sensationalist, very cryptic, very anti-cyclist.” In general, there were concerns about the tone of the page, including calling deportees “501s” and posting about the assault of a baby but ending the caption with “happy Easter everyone”. 

Bloxham declined to be interviewed for this story but responded to written questions, saying “there are times when we’ve made mistakes, as happens with any publication. Where that’s happened we’ve made a correction and moved on.” He added that he had “no interest in relitigating past content”. 

But Bloxham wasn’t alone in making content for the page. He wasn’t going to run Wellington – Live by himself, so he hired contractors to create content, write stories and build the business. 

Bloxham in charge

After working in sales and communications for 20 years, Louise* wanted to branch out in 2023. She was intrigued by Wellington – Live’s job ad for a “content creator”. The role was only for 10 hours a week so she applied and was invited to interview. 

She met Bloxham at a cafe where she remembers him being “out the gate” and “a bit odd”. 

During the interview, Bloxham revealed to Louise that he had two personal grievances against him for not paying his employee’s taxes and student loan. [Bloxham said this month that he is “not in a position to comment publicly on employment matters”.] 

Over the next five weeks, Louise did 47 hours of work for Wellington – Live. None of the work involved actual content creation. 

Bloxham introduced Louise to his team as an “executive assistant”, not a content creator. He then called her a “sales manager”, a “project manager”, and eventually suggested she move into a tele-sales role. She also created a folder compiling screenshots of negative comments about Bloxham because he wanted to keep track of his online haters. 

“I was whatever he decided to call me that week,” says Louise. 

Louise says she has still not been paid for 30 of the 47 hours she worked for Wellington – Live. She has contacted Bloxham multiple times about the estimated $1,000 that she says he owes her, but he has refused to pay. 

In an email seen by The Spinoff, Bloxham responded to Louise’s request by saying:

Not paying you [Louise]. You can waste your time going to small claims or what ever and I’ll turn up, but you will be seen as a complete pain in the ass. And for what. Move on.” 

Louise did go to disputes tribunal. When Bloxham was contacted by MBIE about Louise’s claim, he sent her a text saying: 

“Today I have contacted Wellington police to ask them to issue you with tresspass notice, I’m not fucking around with this [Louise]. You should let this go.”

A response to a critic from Wellington – Live

 Louise still has not received her outstanding fees and she is awaiting her hearing next month. She says she is going through disputes tribunal out of principle because she has the time and the experience to engage in the process, while many of her younger colleagues do not. Emails seen by The Spinoff show that Louise is not the only ex-contractor of Wellington – Live who has raised disputes with Bloxham.

When asked to comment on the claim that he owes ex-contractors unpaid fees, Bloxham said he had “no record of former employees having money owed to them.”

Bloxham could be heavy-handed when communicating, sometimes through third parties, including Peter Tungston. 

In July, Tungston sent a strongly worded email to the owner of another large Wellington Facebook page for posting negatively about Bloxham and Wellington – Live. Peter Tungston introduced himself as Bloxham’s “representation” in a “pre legal” capacity. 

Searching “Peter Tungston” on the New Zealand Law Society Registry yields no results. The email was sent from a Gmail account with no professional domain. Bloxham declined to comment when asked if Peter Tungston was a real person. 

Both Alexander and Louise say Bloxham had a habit of name-dropping powerful people he claimed to know. A former colleague of Bloxham’s recalls him saying he was friends with entrepreneur and Xero founder Rod Drury, a claim he also made on a podcast in 2022. But when the former colleague later met Drury at an event, he had no knowledge of Bloxham. 

Paying the bills

Bernadine* owns a small boutique fitness gym in central Wellington of which Louise is a member. Back when Louise still provided services to Wellington – Live, she asked if Bernadine wanted to be a part of their Mother’s Day giveaway. Bernadine was keen to raise awareness for her business so she agreed. 

Bloxham told Bernadine she needed to pay Wellington – Live $500 for advertising her gym, as well as paying “contra”. 

“I had no idea what ‘contra’ meant but they put a lot of time pressure on me, so I said ‘all good’,” Bernadine remembers. 

Wellington – Live only made one post advertising Bernadine’s gym, which she did not grant approval for. The caption ended with a question about how many calories were in a McDonald’s Big Mac burger, which sparked some controversy. Engagement was extremely low, and the gym got three enquiries from the post.

And it turned out, when Bloxham said “contra”, he meant that Bernadine was expected to let Louise use her gym for free for the next three months, as part of Louise’s “sales commission”. In a convoluted and confusing series of communications, it appears that Bernardine was asked by Bloxham to cover this payment in cash for three months. In total, one post on Wellington – Live would have cost Bernadine $1,250.

“For me, being a small business owner, starting out and trying to find my feet, [this amount of money] is a big deal,” says Bernadine. 

Louise told Bernadine she did not need to pay her contra. 

Bloxham declined to comment on his “customer relationships”, saying this was “a commercial matter of us and our customers.” But it wasn’t just Bernadine feeling short-changed by Wellington – Live.

Empty prizes

In June 2023, Jeremy won Wellington – Live’s coffee cups competition, where the prize was a week’s worth of coffee. Wellington – Live notified him that he won and, instead of offering him actual coffee, asked for his bank account number so they could transfer him $30. 

Jeremy sent through his details and has since followed up with multiple emails but has not received his prize. During the reporting of this article, Wellington – Live got in touch with Jeremy to assure him that they “allways give out prizes, allways!” but still haven’t followed through.  “I know it might be only $30 but it’s the principal of it,” says Jeremy. “[They] shouldn’t offer competitions if they can’t follow through with the prize.”

Wellington – Live has continued running the Coffee Cups competition, most recently on July 14, 2023.

Kyla was another competition winner who persistently emailed Wellington – Live for the prizes she won in June 2023: a dinner for two at Nikau Nights cafe and free entry to the Eat Drink Play festival in Wellington. 

It was a big effort, a lot of emails with lack of response to get the Nikau Nights sorted,” she says. The dinner prize turned out to be legitimate but Kyla never heard back about the festival ticket.

Bloxham said he did not recall any issues with those competitions. “We contact all competition winners informing them how to collect their prize.”

Media outlet or community page?

Bloxham has varying views on what he considers Wellington – Live’s place in the media sphere. In one instance, he said “I’m not a journalist and Wellington – Live is not a mainstream media outlet.” He also refers to the page as “a publication”, and the company’s media kit reads: “You and us creating the news together.” 

If a news website or magazine publishes misinformation or insensitive content, complaints can be lodged to the New Zealand Media Council. But Facebook pages aren’t subject to the Media Council. Followers wanting to take action against concerning content tend to either raise their issues with a page’s admins and hope they listen, or unfollow the page. 

“I admit there was a moment where we thought we might go mainstream but on reflection I felt that was putting us in a negative space and we have refocused on being a great community page for Wellington,” says Bloxham. He says he has recently hired a new manager to run Wellington – Live’s team but that he still occasionally creates content for the page. 

During the reporting of this article, Bloxham offered to “collaborate” with The Spinoff on multiple occasions, saying that The Spinoff “should look to Wellington – Live as a distributor of your content”. 

Large Facebook pages are a hub for community and connection. As of August 2023, Bloxham owns 20 separate Facebook pages under the Wellington – Live company, including “Kāpiti Coast Community” and “Hutt Valley marketplace Buy Sell”. 

Wellington – Live’s Facebook page has 253k followers and continues to be one of, if not the, most popular community page in the country. But Alexander, who started the page all those years ago, struggles to see a future for it. 

“Unless it were to have completely new management, there’s no going back to what it used to be,” she says. “I’m saddened that my company has turned into this, but I have let go and moved onto better things.”

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