Friday, February 25, 2022

Jim Hartley, journalist

Dear me. It was never my intention - still less my wish - that this blog become a Roll of Honour, but that’s the way it seems just now. I learned last night of the death of Jim Hartley, a greatly respected former journalist who became a journalism tutor at what was then Wellington Polytechnic (since absorbed by Massey University).

Jim will no doubt be fondly remembered by the hundreds of journalists who were taught by him, but I recall him from his time as a reporter at The Dominion in the early 1970s. He came to the Dom from the New Zealand Press Association, where he had recently covered the inquiry into the sinking of the Wahine with his NZPA colleague Max Lambert. The two collaborated on a book that became the definitive account of the tragedy.

As a young and clueless reporter in the Dom newsroom, I benefited enormously by being sandwiched between two great role models. Jim sat on one side of me and farming reporter Judith Addinell, who would become the New Zealand Herald’s Wellington bureau chief and the first female chair of the Press Gallery, was on the other. (Judith, sadly, died in 1995.)

Dublin-born, Jim was gentlemanly, good-natured and softly spoken, with a quiet sense of humour. But no one should have made the mistake of thinking he was a pushover.

At the Dom he took over what was called the civic round, which meant reporting the affairs of the Wellington City Council. This was journalistic territory traditionally dominated by the Evening Post, but in his relatively short time in the job, Jim made it his own.

He was an investigative reporter before we became familiar with the term, putting the heat on the council in a manner to which it was not accustomed. He never did it in an aggressive, gung-ho way, but pushed and prodded patiently, politely and methodically. Accountability was another word rarely if ever heard in those days, but Jim believed it was the function of journalists to obtain and disclose information that those in power would have preferred to keep to themselves.

It was a loss to journalism when he went to the Polytech. He spent the rest of his career there.

In fact it was at the Polytech in the early 1980s that I last saw him. I was working for The Listener when Jim invited me to run a course for his students one afternoon a week on feature writing, in the mistaken belief that I could pass on some helpful advice.

At the end of the course Jim and his fellow tutors (one was Gill Shadbolt, former wife of the novelist Maurice Shadbolt; I can’t recall the third) were eager to find out which of their pupils had most impressed me. Jim was astonished when I told him it was a gawky young rooster named Steve Braunias. Braunias couldn’t write a formulaic news story to save himself, and accordingly Jim and his fellow tutors had written him off as a no-hoper.

Jim, who had lived in Greytown since retiring, died in Wellington Hospital on Tuesday, aged 81. He had apparently suffered a fall the previous week. His wife and a son pre-deceased him but he is survived by three daughters.


  1. Karl, I remember Jim from my time at journalism school. Apart from Gill Shadbolt,i recall other tutors being Alan Thorley and Jeremy Smith? (think that was their names).

  2. Hi Karl, very sorry to read of Jim's death. I worked with him at Wellington Polytechnic for three years and remember him as a skilled and highly principled journalist. As the long-time senior tutor on the course, he selflessly helped launch many a successful career in the media. ps I recall Steve Braunias only scraped in because of a crude selection process that looked more for reasons to exclude than include (and,obviously, didn't identify natural talent). More fool us. Alan Thorley.

  3. Brian Joyce was third tutor in 1987. My sister died that year and Jim was very kind to me having lost his son in tragic circumstances. A real gentleman.

  4. Jim was one of my tutors on the 1982 polytechnic course. Always calm and good humoured. The other tutors in my year were Gill Shadbolt (who died last year, I think), Jeremy Smith and Brian Joyce.

  5. Very sad to hear of Jim's death. I worked alongside him at NZPA as a very young journo and remember his skill for being able to drink tea from his endlessly handy mug while still holding his pipe in his mouth. But of course that was the least of his skills.

  6. Remember Jim well from my year at the journalism course in 1974. He was a lovely bloke and well respected by all of the students. Also remember you Karl during my time at the Evening Post from 75-78.
    Paul Malarski
    Gold Coast

  7. Well, there's a name from the past. Good to hear from you, Paul.