Of course, I did it for the freebies.

Become a journalist, I mean.

As a reviewer, you get the books, concert tickets, CDs; as a sports reporter you enjoy the spectacle from a prime position — for free.

There are also the invites to awards dinners; complimentary bottles of wine at Christmas; bags (Rugby World Cup 2011 satchel still in use — thank you Maori Television); T-shirts; coffee; chocolate; honey ... the list goes on and on.


Become a travel writer and see the world. My top freebie was a 10-day, all-expenses-paid wedding and honeymoon package to Jamaica and, believe me, I wrote some fantastic copy after that. Who wouldn't?

The marriage didn't last, but the sun-filled memories linger.

Yes, journalism was the glamour profession.

But it has hit tough economic times. As we squeeze out the news each day, we, too, are being squeezed by financial forces beyond our control.

I have been a happy scribbler for 47 years, working for 15 newspapers in Britain and New Zealand. Today that ends.

I fought the law (of global economics) ... and the law won.

Chronicle editor Mark Dawson (left) is interviewed by Seven Sharp reporter Tim Wilson as Whanganui suffers a dearth of cobblers
Chronicle editor Mark Dawson (left) is interviewed by Seven Sharp reporter Tim Wilson as Whanganui suffers a dearth of cobblers

The Chronicle's parent company, NZME, is re-structuring the leadership of its Whanganui operation and the editor's position is being dis-established.

The Chronicle is, of course, New Zealand's oldest daily paper, coming up 163 years this September since Henry Stokes published that first edition.


I am the title's 22nd editor. And the last. Finally, I have scratched a small mark to signify my humble place in the annals of journalistic history.

It has been a privilege to serve.

A former editor on my paper in the northeast of England reminded me that he was only a temporary custodian of the chair. I have always been aware of that.

Sadly, today I must hang up my trusty pen and notebook — but not before I sign off with this valedictory speech. How many people get to write their own obituary?

Mark Dawson facilitates a September 2013 district council candidates forum
Mark Dawson facilitates a September 2013 district council candidates forum

I leave at a time when mainstream journalism is not only feeling the strife of economic factors but also under attack from a swathe of disinformation, spin and downright lies masquerading as news.

That means that the work of the fourth estate — the press/media as separate from the government, Parliament and the judiciary in a civilised, democratic society — is more important than ever.

A reminder of that work, paraphrasing an article I read this week on the Newsroom website by Catriona MacLennan:

"The press is a guardian of the public interest and a safeguard against arbitrary power. It serves as the watchdog of the public by holding government, local authorities, commercial entities and others to account.

"It protects freedom of expression and acts as a bulwark against injustice by investigating and reporting on illegalities and injustices.

"It disseminates information and education about such things as new laws and policies, scientific and technological developments. And it provides a debating forums for a range of diverse views and opinions."

It is badly needed.

The Chronicle will continue this work in my absence, and I am grateful to have had six years leading it and, hopefully, doing justice to the wonderful community of Whanganui.

All yours -- Olympic rower Rebecca Scown gets the supreme award at the 2013 Whanganui Sports Awards
All yours -- Olympic rower Rebecca Scown gets the supreme award at the 2013 Whanganui Sports Awards

We have informed people (and knowledge is power); we have helped people; we have righted a few wrongs.

I can list a few personal successes — finally getting the "H" into our masthead; getting the work of brilliant satirist Steve Braunias into the paper; overtaking Stuff for online audience in the Whanganui region; overtaking the Manawatu Standard, Timaru Herald and Nelson Mail in newspaper circulation (yes, news reporting is a competitive sport).

I am very proud of some of the work of my team — and myself, though I tend to get overly proud. You can't properly edit a newspaper without having an ego.

Of course, like fishermen, every journo has a story of the one that got away. Mine was a big one — the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

On Saturday, August 30, 1997, as production editor, I was the last man out of the Wales on Sunday newsroom in the Welsh capital of Cardiff.

Some time just after midnight I had to literally turn off the lights and lock the doors, the next morning's paper safely put to bed (can't remember what we were leading on).

Sunday meant a lie-in but I was awakened by my flatmate banging on the door — "Diana's dead!".

Surely some mistake ... no, insisted, my flatmate. "It's there on the front page of your paper."

"Oh, no it isn't — I put that paper to bed and I know just about every word, comma and fullstop in it."

But there, indeed, it was. The front page of Wales on Sunday bluntly announcing "Diana and Dodi dead" like a punch in the face.

Word of the crash in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in Paris had come in the early hours and the editor had summoned his troops from their beds. But I had just moved house and had forgotten to give him my new phone number (cellphones were a luxury item in those days).

The news team had swarmed in, the printers recalled, the delivery truck drivers U-turned and a brief but highly effective front page was cobbled together and sent to the press room. The print button was pressed and it wasn't pressed off for a very long time ... the presses rolled and rolled.

Wales on Sunday sold a record of approximately 600,000 copies that morning.

The national press (News of the World, Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday etc) were also beavering away but the distance from London meant they didn't get their copies into Wales till Sunday lunchtime by which time we had cleaned up.

And I had missed it.

And I will go on missing it — the excitement in the newsroom when a big story breaks.

Still, it's not all over for me — I take up a communications role with Whanganui District Health Board later this month and will relish the challenge of playing a part in improving the health outcomes of the people of our fair district.

And it means I can take a small measure of pride as my passport still says: "Occupation — Journalist".

Journalism ... which saw 94 of its coterie killed doing their job last year; and which has its own language of "romps", "boffins" and "gongs", and can put the word "Bonk" on a front page in 120-point type.

That's it for my 47 years in the glamour profession.

As Anchorman Ron Burgundy would say: "Stay classy, Whanganui."