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.)