There's a lot of "you don't know what you've got till it's gone" about at the moment. Take, for instance, a media landscape without the magazines produced by the German-owned, family-run company Bauer media group.
Obliterating out almost the entire New Zealand magazine supply in one 9am Zoom call to all staff, as occurred on Thursday, was spectacularly ruthless, even by German-owned family-run company standards.
Most readers wouldn't have been aware that Bauer was New Zealand magazines – it published not just ancient titles with a tradition second to none – New Zealand Listener, New Zealand Woman's Weekly – but also Metro, North & South, Next, Fashion Quarterly and many, many others.
There are periodicals not published by Bauer. New Zealand Geographic and Ponsonby News are both fine titles, but most readers probably look for a little more diversity in their magazine diets.
My wife, Wendyl Nissen, and I met while editing mags for that company, and all five of our kids have worked there in various capacities over the years. Until last week we still contributed to several of them.
Making a magazine - the sheer act of devising it and putting it together – is immensely satisfying. Editors live and breathe their titles. To be given charge of the likes of the Listener and Metro, as I was, and Woman's Day and New Zealand Woman's Weekly, as Wendyl was (among others), you have to reach for phrases like "sacred trust".
Bauer is also Australia's largest magazine publisher. It is likely that our market will now be flooded with copies of those, shipped here to distract us, possibly with a few token pages of New Zealand content inserted.
That's at the tabloid end. Australia has no equivalent of the Listener, North and South or Metro that it can use to coax a few more dollars from New Zealander readers.
All Bauer's roughly 20 titles – tabloid or otherwise – contribute to our cultural landscape. They reflect New Zealand concerns in a way that other media don't. They allow voices to be heard that will now be silenced. They are essential to diversity. They provide a home for ideas that's not duplicated anywhere else. They have also been, in my experience, editorially independent.
It always seemed an odd decision by the Government not to allow magazines to be included among items that could continue to be supplied in level 4 lockdown. They are distributed through the post or supermarkets.
Everyone had just adjusted to working from home when the decision they were not essential was made. They are so essential. Magazines have survived this long because they do something unique. They have a singular, almost intimate relationship with their readers, who feel much more ownership of them than they do of radio or TV shows. The best publishers understand that it is readers who own magazines.
So, given we don't know the duration of the lockdown, the Government's decision would seem to have been precipitate. Or maybe it provided just the excuse the parent company had been looking for to divest itself of something it no longer really wanted to own anyway.
Optimists are predicting some valuable titles will be snapped up. Be very careful what you wish for. I can think of any number of unsuitable plutocrats who would like to have the Listener or North & South for their plaything.
I've never watched an entire media company be closed down before so I don't know what the drill is. I do know the timing couldn't have been crueller. All those people who have been working together for years are now working apart. They can't even give each other a hug or shed a tear together. It just goes to show, there really are some experiences that online can't replicate.