Editor marks 50 years with The Westport News

By Teresa Smith of the Westport News

Colin Warren at the typeface. Photo / Aimee van der Weyden
Colin Warren at the typeface. Photo / Aimee van der Weyden

Editor-at-large and newspaper owner Colin Warren, celebrates 50 years with The Westport News today.

Westport-born and bred Mr Warren said he had just begun post and telegraph technician training at Trentham in Wellington when a call came from Westport offering him a job at the paper.

He hesitated at first, as he had his immediate future securely mapped out, but "they kept on" at him over the next two months and he eventually acquiesced.

Mr Warren said it had never been his intention to go into journalism as he had studied trades subjects at school. However, he was a sports enthusiast and had filed sports stories to the paper which led to the offer coming his way.

Beginnings

He began full-time work with the paper in 1966, a few years before its centenary, though it almost hadn't survived that far.

Established in 1871 the Westport News ran as a daily until July 6 1961 when the two Christchurch based owners shut the doors.

The Lucas family, who owned the Nelson Evening Mail, saved the day by buying the paper and The Westport News was back on the press the next day.

They owned it until 1978, Mr Warren said.

"The people of Westport owe a debt to the Lucas family for keeping it going all those years".

What did change with their ownership was that the paper was printed in Nelson, with the copy sent from Westport by teleprinter.

Mr Warren said this resulted in the establishment of a new airline which flew the paper to Westport every week day

"They used a twin- engined Aero Commander and Golden Coast Airways was formed.

"How people knew when the paper arrived, was that it flew down the main street of Westport and then off to the airport."

He said this way people always when the paper was late.

However, the service was fantastic, even during the 1968 earthquake, he said.

"It never missed a day, still printed and distributed. Just as well they flew, as Westport was isolated."

Mr Warren recalled being in bed at his family house near the O'Conor Home when the quake struck. Books rained down upon him from a shelf above the bed, startling him awake.

"I thought who's throwing the book at me?"

When he realised it was a quake his first thought was the clock tower so he grabbed his camera, leapt on his motorbike and went to see what had happened.

"It was very rough, the road, and it was mainly because all the power lines were down and it was dark and I was riding over the top of them."

When he arrived the town clock was there and had survived without so much as a crack.

As he was a photo-journalist he was invited to fly over the Buller Gorge with the resident Ministry of Works engineer to see the extent of the damage.

The upper gorge had just been widened and sealed but when they flew over there was no road to be seen.

"The engineer was visibly upset, but it later turned out to be intact once the rocks were pushed off over the side."

Paper owner

As Mr Warren puts it the Lucas family "gave the paper" to him in 1978 but it was without a press and he took the opportunity to make a huge technological leap.

"In order to print in Westport we had to introduce digital technology.

"We were the first in the country to take the news feed from the New Zealand Press Association and capture it on data tape and then load that tape into the typesetter

"The only way we could economically survive was data capture."

Since then the paper has moved from a sheet fed printer to a small American reel-fed printer to the current multi unit newspaper press. Extra units have been brought in along the way to enable colour printing.

Hands-on

A self-described gadget man, Mr Warren said he has always been interested in technology and how to use it.

Some years ago a couple of union officials arrived from Wellington intent on seeing him to discuss an employment matter.

When they asked for the editor they were sent out to the print room where all they could find of him was his feet poking out from under the press.

They went away without satisfaction as they were informed, in no uncertain terms, that unless he got the print problem fixed immediately there'd be no jobs for anyone.

Building

The Wakefield St building which houses The News today was originally built for the BNZ bank. However, after the Inangahua earthquake staff believed it was unsafe so the bank put it up for auction.

After receiving assurances about its structural safety from an engineer Mr Warren bought it and The News has operated from the site ever since.

The building has quite a past, as it was a gold receiving bank.

Originally it was a two storey building with the manager's residence upstairs. He lived there with his family,plus a gun so he could protect the gold if necessary.

The strong room still in the building today had a concrete floor, Mr Warren said.

"It goes way down into the ground so gold can't be burrowed out. It used to have rooms for washing gold."

He said the ceiling of the strong room still has all the handwritten names of the staff from the BNZ.

Staff

Staff members at The News put on a morning tea for Mr Warren today. Those who spoke paid tribute to him for keeping the paper going through difficult economic times and in an era when so many small independent daily papers have been consumed by conglomerates or disappeared all together.

"The paper survives because the town and district want it," he told them.

Mr Warren thanked all the staff for their commitment. He had particular praise for long-serving chief reporter Lee Scanlon.

"She has been, in terms of the local news service, the lynchpin. Without her reporting of Westport and Buller would be much the poorer."

He said the job of the local paper was to let people know what was happening in their community "without fear or favour" and he was confident The News would continue to do this.

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