Andrew Holden said farewell to his team yesterday after four and a half years as editor of The Press. He is leaving to be editor-in-chief of The Age in Melbourne. Here is his valedictory column to readers.
'Go home, you Aussie b......." The stark capitals, in royal blue, were rammed across a page of The Press, ripped in outrage from the rest of the paper. The envelope, needless to say, carried no return address.
I can't remember now which story or editorial it was that so appalled this loyal reader - I kept the 'note' but it now lies, along with the rest of our lovely old building, in a rubble heap somewhere - but there was no question that he, or she, thought my recent elevation to the editorship of The Press was a disaster.
A couple of weeks ago, I received another anonymous letter. This time it contained a lovely card, and a note wishing me and my family the very best for our move to Melbourne.
You don't get nicer surprises than that, and it showed that I must have done something right during the past four and a half years!
On my second day in the job, Tim Pankhurst, then editor of the Dominion Post, rang to say he had the affidavits that backed up the Urewera "anti-terror" raids, and did I want to join him in publishing them? There was a slight legal issue - we could well be in contempt of court - but the more the merrier. How can a journalist resist that?
There have been many such calls over the past few years, whether legal, taste or, most difficult of all, a question of sensitivity. I've tried to follow the wise words of Jim Lehrer, of the legendary US news show The Lehrer Report: The first rule of journalism is, if you can't defend it, don't do it.
I have no doubt there are those who believe we run vendettas, or deliberate campaigns to undermine people or institutions. I don't believe that's the case, but I would say that, wouldn't I?
I'm proud of many things from my term as editor - that we brought Earth Hour to New Zealand, that our coverage on suicide may well prompt a change in how that social disaster is reported, that we devised the Prime Minister's town-hall forums which led to the crucial Leaders' Debate in last year's general election. I'm pleased that we persist with an issue, now matter how complex, that we have learnt to celebrate achievements, no matter how small, and when something of major significance occurs, we devote resources and space to cover it properly.
I'm proud that we have used our influence to the benefit of organisations like the City Mission, and that we have stood up for those who are struggling. I know it can be enormously frustrating for those in authority, and who do have the best of intentions, to read yet another story of someone caught out or unhappy with the decisions that are being made. But I believe in the importance of the anecdotal, the value of one person's experience. Yes, it may not be the same for the majority, but who else will speak for the little guy if not The Press?
And I'm really pleased that we introduced Hannah Kidd's corrugated-iron rubber chickens to the World Buskers Festival, and with it helped launch the big-time career of Sam Wills.
During my term we remade the paper for our new printing press, celebrated our 150th birthday, moved (finally) to a new office, coped with a recession and the global financial crisis, and moved our journalism more and more on to our website to adapt to an increasingly digital world.
Sticking with the tradition of print, though, my two favourite front pages? The Pike River one, listing just the names of the miners. I couldn't think of anything more powerful than that, with absolutely no colour on the page. And the Thank You front after the February quake.
One of the many pleasures of being editor is that you get to meet amazing people. Remarkably they share with you their intelligence, knowledge and confidences. I won't embarrass anyone by naming particular individuals, but there are great leaders here.
My favourite exercise, when speaking at community groups, has been to seek out the person in the room who has subscribed to the paper the longest. I leave with the record at 60 years - I hope my successor can find someone to beat that.
Deliberately, I have barely mentioned the earthquakes. It has been a seminal time for all of us at The Press - we have been reminded of our fundamental value to the community, we have received extraordinary encouragement and support. I don't think I could ever do justice in words to the people I have worked with over the past two years, and I know that is a sentiment echoed in businesses and organisations right across the city. What strength there is in the people of Christchurch and Canterbury.
I am not disappearing across the Tasman. Dairne and Raffi won't move across until the end of the year, and my two oldest children, George and Emily, will remain here. I will follow their world closely and be back to see them. And I will catch up with many friends, and walk the streets to see how this community's vision is being brought to life.
I leave, after 11 years in this city, at the cusp of an exciting time and I know, from everything I have experienced here, that it will be grabbed with relish by you all.
May I finish by saying a simple thank you. It has been a delight and a privilege to be the editor of your paper.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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