This summer we look back at the big stories of the year around the world and closer to home. In August, Warwick Roger, founding editor of Metro magazine, died. Herald senior writer Simon Wilson, himself a former Metro editor, pays tribute.

We barely know our heroes and sometimes we don't know them at all.

I met Warwick Roger at the funeral of Jan Corbett, a Metro staff writer under his editorship in the 1980s and 1990s, and again when I started there in 2007. I realised I was sitting right behind him and leaned forward to introduce myself as the new editor. It was 2010 and sales had been sliding for years.

"Oh well," he said. "Good luck with that."


I was wearing very big shoes. I knew they belonged to the man in front of me and they'd just got bigger.

He broke so many rules. Forget about market research, he'd said in 1981 when they began, because they were going to give readers something better than they'd ever dreamed. He believed: employ the best and insist they be the best. Be original. Write for grown-ups. Write it long. Tell the truth. Have some fun. You don't have to be nice.

Most publishing, most journalism, is not really like that.

The model for Metro was American: a city magazine with long-form current-affairs journalism, arts and entertainment, food and fashion. The best writers available, the best photographers and designers. New York, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles all had one: a magazine to embody the spirit of the city. Now, so did Auckland.

It was a hot time in the city. Property developers and entrepreneurs were desperate to break the shackles of a regulated economy. A new generation of chefs had customers hooked on nouvelle cuisine and wine with dinner. The Springbok rugby team was about to tour. The anti-nuclear and Māori sovereignty movements were on the rise and the world was halfway through the official UN Decade for Women. New ideas, new values, new ways to live.

And a new magazine. Roger was committed to good journalism and little else. Truth was the watchword and storytelling was a noble pursuit. Staff and contributors talk of him as a leader in the old style: inspirational but also abrasive; a helpful mentor capable of great kindness; a rude man who dished insults without fear or favour.

Warwick Roger established the glossy magazine in 1981. Photo / Supplied
Warwick Roger established the glossy magazine in 1981. Photo / Supplied

He insisted that Metro would be a grown-up magazine. No puff pieces: feature subjects were accorded the true respect that comes from informed critical evaluation. Reviews would be published in the same spirit: independent analysis by critics who knew their stuff. Restaurateurs, used to euphemism and fawning praise, were aghast.

He lined up some of the leading commentators of the day, including the historian Michael King and the left-wing theorist Bruce Jesson. He employed a gifted young art director with whom he had little in common, and backed him to do great work. William Chen duly obliged.

Sales climbed to 40,000 in the first 10 years. Metro carried story after story that helped us define ourselves and sometimes changed who we were. The most famous was Phillida Bunkle and Sandra Coney's 1986 feature, "An Unfortunate Experiment at National Women's", an expose of non-treatment of women with cervical cancer. Out of that, eventually, the principle of informed consent was established in our health system.

There were many others. Carroll du Chateau covered a brutal pack rape by Mongrel Mob members at Ambury Park. Roger himself went to Meadowbank to dissect the life on Gowing Drive, a street built in the sixties that sat right in the middle of Auckland's demographics.

And the city's emerging celebrity set got the satire it deserved – and hungered for. Felicity Ferret's gossip column skated willfully on and over the edge of propriety, delighting readers and turning them, along with the people so deliciously skewered, into a community.

The 1980s picked up speed – deregulation, boom and bust, greatness and greed – and Metro gave expression to it all. Roger lasted until 1994, when he found himself on the wrong end of an expensive defamation lawsuit. The Ferret had gone too far.

He moved over to a more advisory role on North & South, and did more writing, while Metro continued in other hands. The model endured: long-form journalism that never stopped winning awards; glorious attitude, always on show; a celebrant, critic and conscience for the city.

And at its heart, a devotion to good storytelling. That's Metro's true legacy and it remains determinedly alive today.

Not so much his own bold spirit, though. It's easy to be cautious, but only boldness will survive. That's the difficult reality for all media and it's harder to find now.

He was a reader, who made a magazine he wanted to read. That's the right thing to do. And he was a runner. Urging himself along the one true path, not to get to the end but to pour his mind and body into the experience, seeking pain, seeking something true, seeking grace. Parkinson's, which he suffered from for many years, was a cruel disease for such a man.

I didn't know Warwick Roger and I don't know how to run. But I did feel privileged to edit the magazine he made. I've always been so grateful I got to walk in those shoes.