Saturday, December 15, 2012

An unsung hero of print

Today's Dominion Post contains a fine tribute by my friend and former colleague Peter Kitchin, New Zealand's most celebrated obituarist, to another old colleague: Nick Wrench, former deputy editor of The Dominion Post, who died last Sunday at the age of 55 from brain cancer.

Nick was one of the unsung backroom heroes of the newspaper business: smart, creative, energetic, committed and endlessly enthusiastic. As chief sub-editor and later news editor at the old Evening Post, he loved nothing more than to hurl himself into a really big, fast-breaking story, marshalling all the paper's resources - words, pictures, headlines, graphics, design - to produce a complete and compelling package. An outstanding example was the Post's coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which conveniently fell in the paper's time. (We were able to make an early start because, being something of an insomniac, I heard of the attacks as they happened in the early hours of the morning and was able to rouse key editorial staff from slumber and get them on deck. Nick and his old mate Mike Aston, the Post's design maestro, were the first people I phoned, knowing they would be the kingpins.)

Nick's finest moment, undoubtedly, was when he organised publication of the Christchurch Press - the Dom Post's sister paper - on the night following the disastrous quake of February 22, 2011. The Press's production systems were put out of action by the quake, though its printing press in the suburbs was still working and reporters and photographers were all on the job. Nick stepped into the breach, masterminding production of the Press's earthquake edition by remote control from Wellington. Christchurch marvelled not only that the paper was able to come out, but that it was able to provide such comprehensive coverage. Readers rarely get to hear of people such as Nick, but good newspapers couldn't happen without them.

He was an admirable figure in more ways than one, facing his terminal illness with inspirational optimism, courage and spirit. The big crowd at his funeral at Old St Paul's on Thursday was testimony to the respect his former colleagues (Nick parted company with the Dom Post last year) felt for him. A Waikato farm boy to the end, he was buried at Ohaupo.

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