Don McCabe's life in print

19:01, Dec 18 2012
don mccabe
CHANGING TIMES: Don (and Dorothy McCabe) have packed the Waimate Advertiser in after more than 40 years.

It's been an up and down three years for Don McCabe.

While he is ready for retirement, the community newspaper he nurtured for more than 40 years has wilted away.

McCabe says competition has been a key factor but there have been other influences.

The Waimate Trader was established about three years ago and took the majority of advertising from him. And then Waimate's failed sawmill left him with considerable debt.

McCabe had been in negotiations to sell the publication for more than two years when his wife Dorothy developed complex health issues. The sale of the business fell through and he decided to pull the plug earlier this year.

"We tried to sell it and it didn't work," he says.


The paper put out its final edition in September, and Waimate's Historical Society has made a bid to raise money for the purchase of the Advertiser's newspapers, written material and photographs - a collection of records covering 115 years of community news, events, births, deaths and marriages.

While the campaign has the support of the Waimate District Council and looks set to reach the $10,000 needed for the purchase, the hardware is another story.

McCabe is scheduled to meet an interested party today, a printing engineer from Auckland who is keen to see the tonnes of printing equipment up and running in India. Included in the collection are plate, typesetting, offsetting and letterpress machines.

Nothing is set in concrete and the collection of gear, which dates back more than 100 years, lies dormant at the Queen St premises.

McCabe says he will have more time to spend caravanning when the last of the printing machines go.

There is a considerable history, however.

Born south of the Waitaki River, McCabe spent two years at South Otago High School. He was a paper boy during his formative years and gained work experience as a printer.

He then became an apprentice linotype operator at the Clutha Leader and followed with a stint as operator at the Whakatane Beacon before forming a partnership with Gary Skinner and buying the Ellesmere Guardian in Leeston.

In 1970 the pair bought the Waimate Advertiser and, after realising the two publications were too distant to work as a unit, took on one paper each.

"When I first came to Waimate the paper was published Monday to Friday and employed nine staff."

Retirements, deaths and technology led to a decrease in staff numbers.

The Advertiser has employed some well-known journalists in its time, and many went to work for larger publications.

Being a small publication, McCabe had to be flexible and spent time writing, editing and printing the newspaper on a small web press.

Dorothy was also active in the operation, with typesetting, commercial printing and administration.

"I used to cover council, community, hospital board and other meetings; there was a lot going on back then," he says.

"I think it's changing times; the young ones are not interested in going on committees these days."

He says there have been many changes.

"There is now a lack of accountability from the top down; when did you hear of someone saying ‘I was wrong'?"

He counts meeting David Lange as one of the highlights in his printing career.

"Some of the things I loved about it was meeting people from used car salesmen to politicians and prime ministers."

And he sees a future for newspapers.

"People still want to read about their local happenings; small newspapers functioning as news gatherers of local events will survive.

"Daily papers will face problems in that they are neglecting local events and concentrating on finance and the sharemarket, and disregarding the rural communities, only mentioning them when a murder occurs or a large fire, or flood.

"Like fax machines, email and internet improves the distribution of small personal data but will not entirely replace the newspaper print industry and its easy to read format.

"Not everyone wants to squint and peer at a computer screen."

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