The owner of iconic business title the NBR made news recently for a daring but ill-fated citizen’s arrest. He tells The Spinoff what happened next.
He was out on a routine trip to the supermarket, grabbing some drinks and kai for his journalists, when Todd Scott saw something he could not abide. The NZ Herald reported that the owner of storied business title the National Business Review saw “a massive boof of a man”, as Scott put it, attempting to steal multiple boxes of alcohol. Scott says the would-be thief was drunk and abusive, threatening staff in the Countdown Metro on Albert St, near the NBR’s new offices in midtown. The publisher decided he had to take action.
Scott tackled the man then restrained him while awaiting the arrival of police. “Once I had the guy pinned to the ground, thumb locked, knee on the shoulder with my body weight on him, he was quite compliant,” he told Stuff. Scott claimed he was performing a citizen’s arrest, a legal manoeuvre with a narrow basis in the Crimes Act, and one police largely discourage the public from attempting.
The incident was newsworthy in and of itself due to Scott’s role within news media, but that escalated after police said they could not attend the scene, and asked Scott to let the offender go – even suggesting that he himself might be vulnerable to arrest for his actions. Scott was flabbergasted, and says he is convinced that there needs to be legal reform to allow more ability for people like him to take the law into their own hands.
It’s just the latest brush with fame for Scott, who operates the NBR according to his own sometimes mercurial instincts and eschews some of the typical business strategies associated with the news media. He has abandoned all advertising, ended the beloved print publication, and briefly shut the office too, around the time he sold his mansion and moved into a motorhome. He recently made headlines when he ended all opinion writing within the NBR, dropping high profile columnists like Duncan Garner.
Scott has at times talked of huge ambition, expressing a desire to buy Stuff, while also hosing down speculation that the NBR was in talks to be acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. In January of this year, he confirmed to Stuff that he had agreed to sell a stake in the company, but as of today he is still listed as the sole shareholder in the NBR. Which is to say he continues to be the most intriguing and sui generis operator in the local media scene. He now lives in Fiji, and when The Spinoff called he was at Auckland Airport on his way back home, “relaxing in the lounge before heading back to my third world country, leaving behind a lawless country”, as he put it.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Duncan Greive: What has been the response to the incident?
Todd Scott: I bumped into a couple of policemen over the weekend. I asked, what do you think of that guy from the other day with that foiled citizen’s arrest? One of them said, “yeah, I’m aware of that – actually, you look like that guy.” I told them I was that guy. Then I asked a question. “How would you guys feel if after I was told by the police to let the drunken thug go, he then went on to commit a serious assault?” The policeman said, “never, ever doubt yourself”. He said, “no one has ever been sued for acting in the way you did.” Then he thanked me and he shook my hand.
What has been the response to that, whether it’s from people you know, or from members of the public?
The most important one was my wife, who’s bloody furious, understandably. But actually it’s been quite gratifying – the feedback’s been very positive. I’ve actually had a number of conversations with a few politicians. I didn’t do it for attention. I didn’t even think about it. Had I thought about it, I probably wouldn’t have done it. It was just instinct. It was just the look of disdain, anger, resentment, entitlement on his face. This guy was just a nasty thug.
Were you disappointed at the outcome, at having to let him go?
I think it’s definitely time for the Crimes Act to be looked at. I mean, just at a basic level, I believe that registered security officers should be licensed to restrain criminals. I also think the reality is people now know – as a result of this incident, by the way – that you can walk into any retail store, you can remove whatever you like, and no one will place a hand on you. That’s a fact. In New Zealand today, you can walk into any retail stop, shop, take whatever you want, and not a single person will put a hand on you. They might get a photograph of you, then you might get a tap on the shoulder from the cops in 12 months’ time, when they’re not swinging on swings at the park.
Switching tack, how are things going at the NBR?
Really well. We were prepared for Covid without knowing Covid was coming along. But Covid was the gift that gave us our business model, in terms of allowing us to do away with the distraction of print and focus solely online. It’s just gone from strength to strength.
You’ve seen the rise of a pretty well-resourced and well-run challenger in BusinessDesk. Has that impacted the NBR at all?
No, I welcome the competition. I don’t think anybody would argue that the NBR doesn’t have the best business journalists in the country*. I don’t quite understand the business model. I don’t understand why the Herald and BusinessDesk don’t just team up together and do a better job of business news. But they’re essentially playing into our hands, running the two different businesses in silos.
Now, there’s a lot of rumours and speculation over a period of time. I’ve never been in negotiations with News Corp. I did go through three lots of due diligence [around an investment]. But I’m happy where things landed, and I have no intention of exiting the business in the foreseeable future. It’s in fine shape. I’m not interested in selling.
You also made the decision to move away from opinion. What motivated that?
I think if you look at the New Zealand media landscape, there’s just so much opinion out there, and I really don’t think people care. I mean, they might enjoy reading a particular columnist because they like their style. But the reality is that the NBR provides business news and analysis that allows our audience to make their own informed decisions. So it was a bit of a no brainer. It was just a refocus of the resources of the newsroom. As a result of that we’ve actually had the budget to be able to employ a couple of new hires.
How did the opinion staff take the news?
I think internally it was probably a bit of a relief, because it meant that it wasn’t a responsibility that they needed to be beholden to every month. As for the columnists themselves, I mean, Duncan Garner’s a mate of mine, Martin Devlin’s a mate of mine. It might have been hard, but they’re both big boys and they’ve been around a long time. They understand.
You’ve been living in Fiji for more than two years now, how’s life?
It’s great. Fiji is considered a third world country, but I’d rather live there than a lawless society like New Zealand. It’s disgraceful that I feel so much safer walking the streets of Fiji – any street in Fiji – than I do in New Zealand.
How’s running the business remotely going?
To be fair, it’s more on Jackie, my wife and life partner. We’ve been together 35 years and married 30 years in December. God bless the woman. She’s the CFO of the company. So she’s actually, to be honest, busier than I am. I mean, I’m across the website, I read everything, I’ve watched everything, I’m across the strategy and all that sort of stuff. But she’s the CFO, and has a lot more responsibility than I do. So I take care of the house cleaning responsibilities and the gardening. So I have a pretty balanced lifestyle, which is wonderful.
* When reached for comment, BusinessDesk founder and editor Pattrick Smellie declined to engage with Scott’s comments around the relative quality of BusinessDesk’s journalists. Smellie said he was too busy “loitering outside vape shops hoping to one-up Todd by single-handedly stopping a ram raid”.