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Bauer announced the immediate closure of its New Zealand magazine to staff in a Zoom call on April 2.
Bauer announced the immediate closure of its New Zealand magazine to staff in a Zoom call on April 2.

MediaApril 2, 2020

A story ended too suddenly: In praise of the NZ magazines of Bauer Media

Bauer announced the immediate closure of its New Zealand magazine to staff in a Zoom call on April 2.
Bauer announced the immediate closure of its New Zealand magazine to staff in a Zoom call on April 2.

Today came the shocking news that Bauer Media is closing its New Zealand operation, with the loss of scores of jobs. Bauer was the publisher of most of NZ’s magazines, among them Metro, Woman’s Day, North & South, Next, Home, the Listener, Kia Ora and the NZ Women’s Weekly. Here readers, writers and former staff members pay tribute to the people and stories that have been lost.

Rebecca Macfie: The Listener was a thread through 80 years of NZ history

I worked at the Listener for 11 years, the longest I’ve worked anywhere. I learned to wrangle multi-headed beasts into 5000 words, all the while promising the ed I’d get it down in 3000, and you’ll have it first thing tomorrow morning. We were the ultimate generalists – I spent those years bouncing from one head-exploding topic to the next: GFC, water quality, dairying, house prices, mine, earthquake, climate change … and some that I can’t even remember now. At the Listener, I felt a connection to the readers and to the heritage of the mag that I had not experienced at any other publication I’d written for. I loved that. The Listener was bigger than any and all of us. We were adding to the story of who we were.

I’ve felt that even more in the last two years, since I resigned to write Helen Kelly’s biography. I’ve spent long weeks in archive reading rooms and in the solitude of Tūranga’s Aotearoa room; among the piles of research material, of course, have been back volumes of the Listener. Such brilliance. One Anthony Hubbard profile that had always stuck with me because of a line about the subject’s mother tying him to the washing line. The story was even better on re-reading. Get this opening sentence: “Young Roger Kerr was a hurricane in small gumboots.” Genius! The perfect fleck of gold to begin that story. (“Crusader of the Roundtable”, May 2, 1992). So many others that delivered tight, hard, sharp insights into who we were, who had power, and why. John Roberts reflecting on 1951 – “The storm before the calm” (May 29, 1976); Bruce Ansley on the state we were at the dawn of the millennium – “Human Values” (March 25, 2000); Gordon Campbell on the Mother of All Budgets and where it would take us – “Building the Poverty Prison” (March 25, 1991).

I’m grieving today, for my friends who are still there, and for the brutal severing of a thread that has run through 80 years of our history.

Rebecca Macfie is a writer and former Listener journalist

Marion McLeod: The Listener became my education

I was a teenager when we got television – it came late to Dunedin. And with it came this big magazine which then had the monopoly on TV listings. In the hours when there was only the test pattern to look at, I’d pick up the Listener to check what was coming up and, little by little, I ventured into unknown territory and the Listener became my education. Though I’d rather not put it that way because I found it so fascinating.

A man called Karl Stead, who lived in Auckland, seemed to be having a fight with a Wellington woman called Lauris Edmond in the letters to the editor. They were such sophisticated fighters – half the time I had no idea what they were talking about – even so I could sniff vitriol long before I knew the word.

These were real live people. They lived in the same country as me. Admittedly in the North Island, but New Zealanders all the same.

Television, of course, educated me more than the Listener.  But I loved the Listener, its pages dense with columns of printed words. The Listener set me on the road to working with words. I’m so glad they had that monopoly on schedules – otherwise I’d have missed out on the time I spent in the Wellington office in the 80s, first as sub and then as feature writer, and on the friends I made in the office and beyond.

Marion McLeod is a writer and former Listener journalist

The cover of the first issue of the New Zealand Listener, published in July 1939 (Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand)

Russell Brown: A title with soul and pride

It’s 29 years since I first wrote for the Listener. We were a young family, fresh back from London and skint when Chris Bourke gave me a break by offering me the Rock column. Weekly columns covering technology and media followed, hundreds of them over the years.

Even after I stopped writing regularly, our family’s connection with the magazine continued, via the work of my partner Fiona Rae, who for 16 years has done an immensely skilled job in the Listener‘s founding role: telling us what’s on the television. (To the very end, old dears still contacted her in the belief that The Royal New Zealand Listener could do something about the programmes.)

In the time I was writing, I developed a respect for and fascination with the soul of the magazine I’d grown up with and its role in the national life. I found and treasured the two volumes of Monte Holcroft’s collected editorials – books full of this patient, kindly, steadily liberal voice that had guided us into the modern world. I aspired to that.

It’s hard to grasp that the story ended so suddenly today. It wasn’t a story that meant much to the faraway people who made the decision. But it is a story I am deeply proud to have been part of.

Russell Brown is a media commentator, writer and broadcaster

Alex Casey: What a special thing we’ve lost

I will never forget biking frantically to the Sandringham shops on a crisp Sunday morning last year and making the dairy owner rip open the fresh batch of Woman’s Day mags so I could cry over Art and Matilda’s baby announcement and wedding photos. Over the summer break I bought a Metro at the airport to read on a flight from CHCH-AKL and pored over every single word without looking up once. It made me feel like a fancy natural wine person on one page, and then had me cry-laughing at Hayden Donnell begrudgingly dealing with shitty nappies the next. Maddie Holden on sex and life, Tess Nichol being a hilarious brat. What a special thing we’ve lost.

Alex Casey is a senior writer at The Spinoff

Colin Mathura-Jeffree: a place bursting with wonderful people

I studied sciences like anthropology at university and have always said that magazines represent poetically our moments in modern time. The literal extinction of Bauer Media today is so painfully just that, in a way I never imagined. I appeared in the pages of these magazines for decades. My mother Rosalie was an avid reader of Woman’s Day, so when I appeared on the cover with her and my sister Kathleen – photographed by my brother in law Robert – it was full circle.

Many of the people who work at Bauer I count as great friends. Often I felt like an outsider being an LGBTQ+ Anglo Indian in New Zealand, so when Metro named me sexiest man in 2012, I was in shock. The photo they used was so popular they used it again not long after to promote the restaurant awards, where I took Jacinda Ardern as my date and introduced her as “the future prime minister” to her great embarrassment.

Magazines are such a strong reflection of society, and to have lost all of them so suddenly shows how horrific this Covid-19 situation is. My thoughts are with all the bloody fantastic people who worked for the Bauer empire. The future is so uncertain but we are in this together and we must rebuild. Kia Kaha.

Colin Mathura-Jeffree is a man-about-town

Toby Morris: So many stories, and cartoons, too

My house growing up always had a Listener subscription, and I was obsessed with the cartoons – Trace Hodgson’s political work and later his ‘Shafts Of Strife’ strip, then in the 90s Dylan Horrocks’ Milos Week, then later on Chris Slane’s great political cartooning. They were all a big influence on my career path. I think of the great feature writing of Metro and North & South too, so many of our best stories have been told there.

Toby Morris is an illustrator and writer at The Spinoff

Sarah-Kate Lynch: Pillars in people’s lives

In 1994 when I was the new young editor of the NZ Woman’s Weekly, I remember being so busy (read: out of my depth) that I looked down at afternoon tea time and noticed I had on two completely different shoes, usually an embarrassment saved for someone significantly more senior. I’m happy to say it hasn’t happened since, but I’m heartbroken that after more than two decades writing stories and columns, for initially the Weekly and for the past nine years NZ Woman’s Day, I am no longer going to have a magazine in my life.

I have written my columns for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to… oh hang on, it’s not like we were married. Although we kind of were. A columnist’s connection with her readers is a deep and meaningful relationship and I’ve been with mine almost as long as I’ve been with my husband, The Ginger, about whom they loved to hear. And whom they loved to approach in the supermarket offering their sympathies for being married to such a harridan. New Zealand women have long found a friend in the pages of our magazines and it’s never easy saying goodbye to someone or something you love, but, until we meet again…

Sarah-Kate Lynch was Woman’s Weekly editor 1994-96, a columnist 1997- 2011, and a columnist at Woman’s Day from 2011 to today

Sam Brooks: A great loss to the culture

Some of the best stories I’ve ever read have been from North & South. The Listener reflected a certain New Zealander back at themselves, not always flatteringly, but accurately. And I’ll always love, respect and value Metro for continuing to be one of the few magazines to consistently support the live arts. Bauer’s publications have led the conversation since before we were even talking about “the conversation”; they lay across our coffee tables and put stories into our minds, words into our mouths. Many of our culture’s best writers and creatives lost jobs, money and a platform today. I worry New Zealand, on the whole, has lost a lot more in the long-term.

Sam Brooks is a playwright and arts editor at The Spinoff

Catherine McGregor: Something wonderful is lost

I came to Metro on a two-week internship; I stayed for five years. Simon Wilson and I began our new jobs – he as editor, me as a lowly editorial assistant – on the same day, and my most vivid memories of those years are of Simon hard at work, throwing himself into a magazine that meant so much to him, and to people across Auckland. Metro was a dream job for both of us, and even when we’d missed our publication deadline, again, or were tearing our hair out trying to get the Best Schools in Auckland tables to add up, we knew how lucky we were to be there. Today I’m thinking of the talented people who came after us – Henry, Tess, Jean and the rest of the Metro team – and all the teams strewn across that cavernous Cityworks Depot office space. Week in, week out, you created something wonderful out of nothing more than words and pictures and the smell of fresh ink. You should be so proud of what you achieved.

Catherine McGregor is deputy editor of The Spinoff and former digital editor at Metro

Gemma McCaw: Stories that touched hearts and minds

For years, since 1932 in fact, Woman’s Day has brought pleasure to many, many readers. The simple act of sitting down and getting to enjoy some time out reading this magazine will be sorely missed. Its beautiful cover held pages of inspiration, recipes, sound advice and stories that truly touched our hearts and minds.

Woman’s Day has captured some very special moments for my family and I. These memories include our beautiful wedding in Wanaka in 2016 and a Mother’s Day shoot with my dear nana and mum in 2018. These special moments will be looked back on with great fondness and the beautiful copies I have kept will remain so that I can show my children, and my children’s children one day.

In 2018, I got the opportunity to join the team as a wellness columnist, working closely with Sophie Neville. I am so grateful I had the chance to work alongside such a thoughtful, kind and talented woman.

And to Sido Kitchin, your passion and commitment to share incredible stories is so appreciated. You’ve worked tirelessly at the helm to deliver a truly great magazine each week. Your ability to connect readers from all over New Zealand with your words and wisdom was truly special and will be remembered for many years to come.

My thoughts are with those who have lost their jobs, who poured in huge amounts of effort each week to deliver stories for all New Zealanders to enjoy.

Gemma McCaw is a wellness coach, a former Olympic hockey player and a Woman’s Day columnist

Josie Adams: A deep legacy

In 1987, Metro published an interview with my grandmother about her experiences as a patient under Dr Herbert Green. The “Unfortunate Experiment” article led to legislation that changed the lives of patients in New Zealand, but no life more than my grandmother’s. At her funeral a year and a half ago the authors of the article, Phillida Bunkle and Sandra Coney, showed up. They felt the loss deeply. I know the people who worked at Metro this year, and I know they were just as deeply connected to their work as Phillida and Sandra. I also used to connect pretty intensely with Jon Bridges’ column in the Listener when I was a teenager. I don’t know what that says about me or Jon. Good times. May they reign again.

Josie Adams is a staff writer at The Spinoff

Guy Somerset: Where the best writing lived

Like everyone else at the Listener, given how long it has (I wrote has; that should now be had) been going, I was a reader before I was a member of staff. It wasn’t a lifelong fixture for me as it was for so many other New Zealanders, since I only arrived in the country in 2001. But from my first read I was a fan and it was where I wanted to be as a journalist. I could see that it had easily the best writing in the country, whether Diana Wichtel and Fiona Rae on television, Jane Clifton on politics, Philip Matthews on film, Nick Bollinger and Jim Pinckney on music, or Steve Braunias on the backpage waxing endlessly lyrical about those damned mangroves of his. It could be too hair-shirt at times (under the editorship of Finlay Macdonald) and veer too far in the other direction (under the editorship of Pamela Stirling), but like all magazines it was a broad church and had plenty of pews where you would want to take a seat.

When I joined as arts and books editor in 2008, Pamela gave me a little reception attended by some of my section’s contributors. I said a few words and referred to an old story from London about how when the 1923 play The Ghost Train was revived in the 1990s the widow of its writer (Arnold Ridley – the lovely Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army) said she hoped they didn’t arse it up. I said I felt the weight of the Listener‘s heritage heavily on my shoulders and hoped I didn’t arse it up either. I hope I didn’t. But now someone else has. Monumentally.

Guy Somerset was a Listener journalist and editor from 2008 to 2014

Leonie Hayden: A benchmark title

Metro has always been the benchmark for me, for thoughtful, insightful feature writing, especially under genius storyteller Simon Wilson. But in the past year, Metro became a reflection of the Auckland I know. It became browner and queerer. I started to see more of the places where me and my friends grew up and liked to go. Immigrant voices were bolder, not just as purveyors of delicious food but as active members and minds in this vivid city. Henry Oliver’s kind eye, searching intellect and leadership, and the undeniable talent of everyone he hired and commissioned, made me very proud of the Tāmaki Makaurau I saw reflected in its pages. The loss of that creative potential is a huge blow to our culture.

Leonie Hayden is the Ātea editor of The Spinoff and a former editor of Mana magazine

Alice Neville: It doesn’t seem real that we’ve lost them 

When I was at primary school, my mum was a writer at the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, so copies were always around. I particularly enjoyed reading Over The Teacups. We got the Listener too – Bradford’s Hollywood was my buzz, but I like to think I read some of the more intellectual articles as well. As I grew older I sought out Metro; it seemed like an act of rebellion for a Wellingtonian. It informed my first years in Auckland too, when social media was still very much in its infancy, so Metro told me what to do and where to go. I ended up working for NZWW around that time: as a sub-editor and a writer in my very first media job, when it was still owned by APN (now NZME). I interviewed Helen Clark when her niece entered the navy, and wrote some excellent punny headlines.

I’ve since written for the Listener, for Metro and Kia Ora, and my sister just lost her job at Woman’s Day, so my connections with these titles run pretty deep. It doesn’t seem real that we’ve lost them all, just like that, in one fell swoop. Fingers crossed a buyer or buyers come forward for at least some of them, but in this climate, who knows.

Alice Neville is deputy editor and food editor of The Spinoff

Bill Manhire: Where so many writers got their start

North & South, Metro, the Listener: they’ve always been core reading for me – especially the last, which has been so important for New Zealand writers, and not just as these days for its reviews. Back in the day, the Listener didn’t only report on our imaginative life, it actually fostered it. Some of my first poems were published there, and the magazine was crucial to the growth of the New Zealand short story. In the 1970s I edited two best-selling anthologies of Listener stories and so had the astonishing experience of reading every issue since it began. There was early work by Janet Frame, Witi Ihimaera, Maurice Duggan. So many writers got their start there.

But my favourite Listener literary tale is the one it told against itself.

On August 24, 1945, the magazine ran a story by Sam Rix called “The First Leaf Falls”. It describes a pilot on a secret mission. His aircraft is carrying a new superbomb, one which will destroy a city in a matter of seconds. He hasn’t dropped it at the end of the story, but he might. A prefatory note explains that the story had originally been turned down:

A month of two before the atomic bomb was announced we received this short story – and rejected it as too fantastic. Now we print it. Although a rocket-plane was not used the rest of the story could not be called far-fetched.

Hiroshima had been bombed 18 days earlier.

I like what this tells us about the limits of the New Zealand imagination. (Well, the permissible imagination back then: writers like Janet Frame, Margaret Mahy, Elizabeth Knox and others have helped us make some big adjustments.) But even more I admire a magazine that can so straightforwardly acknowledge its mistakes.

Bill Manhire is a poet, short story writer, professor and New Zealand’s inaugural Poet Laureate

Antonia Prebble: The stories serve like a diary

This is such a blow. The magazines in Bauer’s stable are such a special part of New Zealand’s identity, their loss will be felt keenly and will leave a large hole in our cultural fabric. On a personal level, I have loved working with all of the Bauer magazines over the last 20 years. The stories I have done with them serve like a diary for me, they are a great way for me to reflect back on my life and remind myself what was happening at a particular time, which is so special. We also had future stories in the works for when life returned to normal, which I was really looking forward to doing.

My heart goes out to all the staff who have now lost their jobs, this is a very sad day.

Antonia Prebble is an actor

David Farrier: Part of the family furniture 

I don’t know how most parents communicate with their children, but ever since I left home, my mum’s favourite method of communication has been sending me clippings from the NZ Listener.

A book review here, a Bill Ralston column there. Sometimes an interview, or anything relating to Samantha Hayes, whom she adores more than she adores me. Often there’s no note, just her handwriting with the the date, and the publication: “The New Zealand Listener”. When I go home to visit  (the cities and homes have changed over the years, so have the cats and the conversation and the health), but there by the TV is always a copy of the latest NZ Listener. Dad’s either in his Lazy-boy or battling with wood for the fire, Mum’s putting on some tea, and I’m laid out on the floor reading the NZ Listener. I am going to miss that, and I am going to miss the letters. I wonder what will be left for mum to send.

David Farrier is a writer, journalist and filmmaker

David Slack: This was where we lived 

A German family has sent it to its death, but the great irony is that Metro was a truly local creation, particular to our time and place. I was a suit in an ad agency when the first issue came out. It sparkled. I was living in Wellington, which didn’t.

Month after month, that magazine fascinated me and entertained me and eventually I found myself writing for it and for the best editor I’ve known. We satirised, we had a lot of fun. We entertained a small but perfectly formed readership until the day there wasn’t enough advertising and then things started to fray and then Simon Wilson, the best editor I ever worked for, was gone and when he was gone, I walked too because to hell with treating someone like that.

And now finally the whole thing is gone, gone for not enough ads, gone, all of it, and Ach du liebe Zeit. Auf wiedersehen.

David Slack is a speechwriter, columnist and former Metro contributing writer

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