Monday, November 22, 2021

Robin Bromby looks in the rear-vision mirror

Robin Bromby was the chief  reporter of The Dominion when I worked there as a very green young journalist in 1969-71. Robin, who remains actively engaged in freelance journalism in Sydney and has written several books (including a very good one on the decline of newspapers), sent  the following recollection in response to my post on the backlash against the media.

It may be of interest to those now deeply concerned — as they should be — by the state of the New Zealand media to have a snapshot of how different things were in Wellington 53 years ago. In 1968 I was transferred from The Dominion to its then Sunday tabloid, The Dominion Sunday Times, edited by the now late Jack Kelleher (who had been chief reporter on the daily when I was hired as a cadet there in 1962). Kelleher was a very devout Catholic and so I remember being surprised in 1968 when he told me he wanted a three-part series on abortion. (He didn’t have to move from his desk to instruct staff: the Sunday paper was run out of one modest room which accommodated three reporters, three sub-editors and the editor, the entire full-time staff of what was a national newspaper.) I was not given any instructions as to what the series should conclude apart from getting all sides of the issue. Actually, the series did not (so far as memory serves me) advocate either side’s case but presented a range of comments and facts. It ran in the paper over three Sundays pretty well untouched as it was written. On reflection, I assumed that Kelleher had strong personal views on the subject — he never voiced them to me, hence the assumption — but certainly did not impose them on the finished version of the series.

How different would that be today?

We were all aware of the strong ties to the National Party of those who controlled what was then the Wellington Publishing Company, but the Sunday paper at that time ran a good number of critical reports on the Holyoake government, including another series Kelleher got me to write investigating a government board chairman where grants were being given to associated parties of that person. Unfortunately, after Jack moved over to editing the daily paper his successor was less adept at judging the allowable boundaries and, after I wrote a piece highly critical of Robert Muldoon in 1969, I was reassigned back to the daily after, no doubt, all hell broke loose behind closed doors. But the next year Jack promoted me to chief reporter of the daily — where again he again gave me a reasonably free hand. The daily’s staff were by and large of the left — very much the soft left, of course — but looking back it seems remarkable that there was so little conflict between the functioning of the newsroom and management. But I guess that was an era when it would never have occurred to a reporter to push an agenda. We were there to break news and report it, not to comment on it.

(Robin's book Newspapers: A Century of Decline is available on Amazon. The editor who replaced Jack Kelleher at The Dominion Sunday Times was the late Frank Haden.)


Andy Espersen said...

The printed newspaper era is over. This whole, hundreds years old, journalistic enterprise is broken, done with, buggered, kaput - and being of the same generation as Robin Bromby and you, I share your grief. Never again will I experience that feeling of joy and excitement just to sit down with my cup of Saturday morning tea with my morning paper! I now only go for death notices and obituaries.

But in a way I am now actually better off, receiving to my inbox regular articles from a selection of global, independent news-sources and blogs (such as this one) - most of them free (except I must put up with some ads!). And often with the possibility of getting my own gold-nuggets of opinions published much easier than in those good old days – when I had to painstakingly write a letter to the editor in longhand, put a stamp on it and wander to a letter box.

MarkJ said...

One wonders how the current crop of government sponsored propagandists would respond to the predicted death of their medium. I suspect they are blissfully unaware of the legacy they sully. I wonder how many of them read your blog Karl? Like Mr. Espersen - I too read (and watch) many different sources of information to get to the truth. Factcheckers be damned - the truth is out there (perhaps just not on the New Zealand 6pm TV news).

Odysseus said...

Journalism today has much the same credibility problem as docudramas like "The Crown". It's an historical reconstruction of events which the writer shapes to suit their own opinions. Those things which the journalist feels do not fit their worldview, or that of their paymaster such as the Pravda Project, are left out or denigrated. Political messages are promoted regardless of their relevance or veracity. This is very tiresome. New Zealand "journalists" seem to be among the worst practitioners of this debased craft. Never mind, they are on their way out.

Doug Longmire said...

Doug Longmire here agrees totally with the above bloggers'
Fortunately - we have sites such as this where we can read real journalism, away from the Pravda propaganda of the mainstream "media".

Mark Wahlberg said...

Back in the day when journalists had to earn a byline. A rite of passage in the world of newspapers of old.

More then 40 years on I still lament the passing of the Sports Post and the Truth, old school newspapers of the 1950's and 60's.

Saturday night the old man would send me to the local dairy to get a copy of the Sports Post hot off the press for him and a war comic for me.

The Truth on the other hand was considered to salacious to be left around for family reading, especially after the old man was named and shamed, along with several of his mates after being caught drinking on licensed premises after hours.

Karl du Fresne said...

As a cadet reporter for the Evening Post, my duties included covering Saturday afternoon sports fixtures for the Sports Post. I had little interest in, and even less knowledge of, sport. As a result my reports made no sense at all, but such was the benign culture at Blundell Bros Ltd (owners of the paper) that nothing was ever said to me.

Hilary Taylor said...

Thanks Karl for highlighting this book of Robin's. Confess I had not heard of him until now. I will seek the book out.
Commenters on form too & I concur.
Did somebody mention The Crown?! Glad you did O...I'm struggling with S4(?), the season with Chas & Di, Maggy & Lizzy. I baulked at the episode with Maggy at Balmoral, tolerated the one where the mothers had tribulations with their children, but am baulking again at the portrayals of Chas/Di Down Under...I remember the tour and it just doesn't chime. DOnt need it to be devoid of artistic licence but I do need it to be a bit credible.