John Roughan 's Opinion

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: Granny set to celebrate in typical style

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For its 150th birthday, the Herald will focus not on itself but on the country it covers. Photo / Sarah Ivey
For its 150th birthday, the Herald will focus not on itself but on the country it covers. Photo / Sarah Ivey

This grand old newspaper marks its 150th anniversary on Wednesday. When I think about that all sorts of names and faces appear out of the past. It is tempting to write about them but it would be a book.

Even then it would feature mostly writers, sub editors, editors, managers and proprietors of the past 30 years, doing an injustice to the thousands of people who have worked for the Herald in other vital roles over that time.

In any case, a newspaper is greater than the sum of its parts. You come to the Herald conscious of the character it has established. Nobody tells you about it, nobody needs to.

It is about standards of taste and tone that go almost completely unspoken and, dare I say, do not necessarily reflect the vernacular in the office.

When I came north in 1974 it was to the Auckland Star where the bigger selling paper was called, rather desperately I thought, "Granny". I didn't hear the term in wider use until the advent of Metro magazine a decade later.

The Herald was sober, serious, authoritative and, above all, reliable. It was trusted.

It was so trusted at the Star that the reporters' first task in the morning - as on all papers with early afternoon deadlines - was to do some quick rewriting of brief items cut by the chief reporter from the morning paper. They were called "lifts". Nobody disparaged Granny while lifting her briefs.

Much worse happens on radio stations still. When you hear something genuinely new and well-developed on an early morning news bulletin it often comes, and often without attribution, from the morning paper.

It is not in Granny's nature to complain. She is gracious, despite the hard work it takes to find and research the intelligent news she is preferring for her front pages in her new weekday shape.

She is modest too. If I could claim any personal credit for her news selection these days, I wouldn't be writing in this vein. But I can't so I can. Somebody needs to say it.

She is so modest that you might not read as much about her as you could expect next week. She is marking her anniversary with a minimum of introspection and plenty of outgoing projects on other people.

I'm looking forward to one in particular. David Hastings, who recently retired as Weekend Herald editor to do some writing of history, has applied our annual indulgence, picking a New Zealander of the Year, for all of our 150 years. But he has gone a step further.

For many of the years he has picked two news-makers, one the individual who would have been most celebrated at the time, the other, the person we would pick today.

It should be an interesting illustration not only of how much attitudes have changed but of how detached today's view of the past has become from the testimony of those who experienced it.

The most recent example was the protest from Auckland Council member Mike Lee at a plaque on Queens Wharf carrying the sentiments of a strike breaker 100 years ago. There is no doubt which side public opinion was on. The strike breaking Government was re-elected, just as it was in 1951.

The Herald's own contribution to history is not faultless, at least from today's perspective. Forty years ago it campaigned against a Labour Government's funded superannuation scheme that would have been maturing for the baby boom's retirement today.

Readers on the right complain that the Herald is politically correct these days, on the left they still call us conservative. It is both.

It is politically correct because to accord respect to all sections of society, particularly Maori, is the right thing to do. And it is conservative because it is not on a mission to change the world.

The Herald's great strength, I think, is that it is not politically driven. It reflects Auckland in that respect. When I went to work for it at Parliament I used to worry that Wellington's morning paper was giving greater play to the politics we were reporting. When I came back to Auckland, the impression was different.

The Dominion, as it was, seemed written for political insiders, the Herald had a healthier sense of proportion. It depends where you are. Newspapers cannot help but mirror their community. They must to survive.

Their survival is in the balance worldwide but newspapers still provide the bulk of independently gathered news. If they disappear, we will be left with a self-selected feed of announcements. It wouldn't be the common reference point called today's paper.

A newspaper is like a daily community bulletin board. Communities might not realise they need one, until it has gone.

- NZ Herald

John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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