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MediaSeptember 18, 2015

Celebrating the Careers of Three New Zealand Herald Originals


It’s been a year of massive change at the New Zealand Herald: Editor-in-Chief Tim Murphy stepped down, and a raft of columnists have departed, including the likes of Peter Calder, Paul Casserly, Dita De Boni and James Griffin. Today the NBR broke the news that time has been called on a number of staff members as the organisation integrates its various operations. 

The whole situation is very sad – we have sympathy for the journalists who have lost their jobs and their platforms, and for NZME., which is undergoing a very difficult transition. The company is amalgamating newsrooms, running business across different mediums and trying to keep up the important work of news gathering and analysis in an era characterised by very different dynamics to the one which preceded it.

We’re not here to criticise the move, or applaud it. This is both because we have multiple Herald columnists amongst our number – a conflict, for sure – and because these decisions will not have been made without agony and serious contemplation. No rational person would suggest otherwise. But we wanted to mark the work of three of the journalists who have been let go with appreciations of their contributions.


On Brian Rudman:

Rudman’s City, they called his column, and there were few parts of Auckland’s civic life to which he had not turned a sharp and often infuriated eye. He had no time for whatever the line was on a project or process – the way he saw, that’s the way it was. He cut his teeth breaking news of Dawn Raid: Not the late ’90s hip hop label, but rather the ’70s dogwhistling immigration crackdowns so beloved by Muldoon. For just shy of 20 years he wrote for the Herald on local politics, though he pointedly and smartly kicked blame up the chain when he saw an Auckland mess created – artfully or otherwise – by Wellington. He was unpredictable: a leftist (he once ran a Labour startup newspaper) not entirely in love with the CRL, who praised spending on a classical music venues and orchestras. In later years he grew increasingly strident, sometimes to by-numbers excess, and more consumed by national affairs. But give him a thorny civic politics issue – the V8s spring to mind – and he’d hammer ruthlessly, armed with facts, figures and invective, until most readers would end up in his corner.

On Michele Hewitson:

She was what Paul Casserly likes to call people who talk about themselves a lot – “an I Doctor”. I thought this, I said that, I walked across the road and simply must tell you about it, etc. In short, she was infuriating.

Warwick Roger had one word for her profiles: “Unspeakable.” And unreadable, too, for weeks on end, sometimes. Her Saturday profiles so often weren’t profiles; they were reflections of herself, laughing and joking, rolling her eyes and tut-tutting. But she was also capable of a shimmering brilliance. She could write an intro as good as this: “Yesterday, the retiring National list MP, Tau Henare, was sitting in a vegan cafe in Mt Albert giving someone, or perhaps no one in particular, the finger.” Her profile of Ted Dawe was sensitive and beautiful. The one she did on Oliver Driver was mean and cruel and revealing and very entertaining. The one she did on Dame Susan Devoy was a bit of a masterpiece. The one she did on Slash, in February this year, was basically a classic. There were countless other times when she gave a detailed, fascinating insight into the temperament and behaviour of the people she encountered. They weren’t really interviews. They were stranger and stronger than that, something more neurotic and theatrical. They were the Michele Hewitson Experience, and her regular Saturday profiles became an inky icon of Auckland life. The back page of the Weekend Herald will always be her page.

On John Drinnan:

In the media, Drinnan was not well-liked – which is how it should be. His opinions at times seemed exotic, rare birds from faraway lands, their origins unknowable. And he had an infrequent but unfortunate habit of getting critical facts or quotes plain wrong; the most recent example occurring only last week.

He was also essential reading, every Friday, and broke big, meaty stories, including the Campbell Live ouster earlier this year. He had to patrol a very large and diverse beat (media’s endless splintering made his job far harder than it once was) and did it with a general analysis that was sound, even if the occasional piece might have been misdirected. Better yet, he was absolutely unafraid of taking an unpopular opinion. When Geoff Robinson’s retirement was announced after 300 years at Radio New Zealand, he rightly pointed out that new blood at the station was overdue, despite the over-egged outpouring of grief. And he has always been an entertainingly mystifying presence on Twitter. So while some big names in the media might be quietly pleased about his departure, he reported on and reflected the chaos of this era, and we at The Spinoff will sorely miss him.

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