Media: Listener at centre of climate storm

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The Listener has dumped its "Ecologic" columnist as the magazine acts on a complaint by Bryan Leyland - a prominent sceptic of the human impact of global warming.

Global warming activists and left-wing bloggers have leapt on the magazine which has actively covered the debate, suggesting that it is bowing to pressure.

But Listener editor Pamela Stirling is insisting that the two events are unconnected and that she is using a staffer because of budget cuts.

Wellington freelance journalist Dave Hansford has been the ecological columnist since November.

He has had differences of opinion with Stirling during much of that time and on occasion was asked to changed the tone of the column.

That is what happened on March 23 and his rejigged column questioned media coverage of what he says are climate change deniers.

So when he was told that Leyland was planning a Press Council complaint and his column was being pulled, he questioned whether the Listener had come under pressure.

Eco activists and left of centre blogs got hold of the story and blog correspondents were opining about how the Listener - once a journal of the liberal left - had gone to the capitalist running dogs.

Did the Listener bow to pressure from climate change sceptics?

Leyland says in one of his emails that his reputation was damaged but Stirling insists there was no threat of legal action.

She said the Listener gave Leyland a right of reply with a counter-argument from Professor Kelly of Canterbury University.

If there was no legal threat - and given the costs of defending a claim - it would be surprising if the threat of the Press Council caused any more than a sigh of relief.

Stirling says Hansford was only ever hired as a short-term position for two months and the column was now being written by a staffer.

But it's clear that Stirling's approach to the eco-column - like her approach to the Listener - has been a lot more right of centre than the line of the old days.

Stirling took over in 2004 and she says that for a long time the Listener had been the house journal of the Alliance Party.

Stirling says the magazine is more centrist and allows everyone to express a view.

But global warming campaigners have become impatient with persistent sceptics like Leyland - many of them pro-business - who question the human impact on global warming.

Ten or even five years ago the blogland left would have been closely allied to the Listener.

The Ecologic row is tinged with a slightly sad acceptance from the left that the Listener is no longer part of the movement.

HOUSE OF USSHER

Longtime Listener photographer Jane Ussher has resigned from the magazine and is currently receiving treatment for an accident that took place in 2004.

Ussher - who is New Zealand's best magazine portrait photographer - has been with the magazine for 30 years.

Stirling - who says her work has been a national treasure - insists that she will be returning for projects.

Ussher joins a long list of long-time staffers who have left the magazine and past luminaries include Denis Welch, Bruce Ansley, Alastair Bone and Phillip Matthews.

In particular the departure of Gordon Campbell marked the end of the old era at the Listener.

OUT OF INTEREST

Interest.co.nz publisher David Chaston is claiming strong victories for the burgeoning media arm now that managing editor Bernard Hickey is providing "colour" around the interest rates sector.

The company issued press statements this month saying it was now the third business news site behind nzherald.co.nz and stuff.co.nz, and ahead of nbr.co.nz. Chaston said the company output was divided into three areas - shared data, research effort on rates and institutions, and the the colour provided in news content.

He said that interest.co.nz was providing analysis for "competitor intelligence services".

Asked if the commercial relationship - analysing for industry clients and writing about them editorially - put the website in a difficult position, Chaston said it was no different to newspapers who wrote about advertisers.

"We do not pull any punches," he said.

Elsewhere interest.co.nz has straddled what has been a unofficial dividing line in the online news world, with material on both Fairfax's Stuff and nzherald.co.nz.

"There is a principle called co-competition," says Chaston.

"It is working with people who would normally be your competition, but you only supply material that they would not do themselves."

MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

Certainly interest.co.nz managing editor Bernard Hickey was eponymous, at one stage turning up with video commentaries about interest rates on nzherald.co.nz, at the same time as Hickey's "Show Me The Money" blog on Stuff sang the glories of his old days and old colleagues at Fairfax.

But Hickey was a rising star at Fairfax and in a fiercely competitive news world that juxtaposition did not go down always go down well.

The Herald website still uses interest.co.nz.

BORN TO BE WILD

These are busy times for Tony O'Brien, the lobbying and public relations man for Sky Television who assiduously courts the powers that be around Wellington coffee houses to ensure they are aware of Sky's position.

Sky, like the rest of the broadcasting and telecommunications world, is working overtime to handle an election year barrage of reviews and digital studies that bureaucrats are trying to get into the system. He has also been busy in his personal life, preparing to marry his partner.

As part of his changing lifestyle, the 40-something PR man has found a new form of transport and regularly makes the trip from his home, to Sky's Mt Wellington headquarters on his 250cc motorcycle.

He says he loves his new form of transport as does his betrothed.

In fact he says that his new pillion passenger in life is taking lessons and will start driving his 250cc, allowing him to step up to a slightly bigger machine.

GHOST IN THE MACHINE

This column broke the story a while back about Fairfax Media hiring staff to rip four pages from the Sunday magazine of its Sunday Star-Times.

Head of editorial Paul Thompson said content in the editorial was offensive and inappropriate.

One view was that it had spent in excess of $50,000 to take out the offending content on other pages.

Thompson would not spell out the offending material but it seems that not all copies were destroyed and a copy was posted on the internet from an American server.

Having read the offending content you would have to say that Thompson and editor Cate Brett did the right thing taking it down.

The material would almost certainly have offended some readers, and I'd hazard it would have damaged the SST brand.

What was the magazine's editor Emily Simpson thinking?

- NZ Herald

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