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Simon Pound: Papers Short Of Content To Pad Ads

NZ's Enlarged Newspapers Papers Short Of Content To Pad Ads

This is the extended script from which my Agenda piece was culled for last Saturday.

There was a little something that I reckon was overlooked when the decision was made to enlarge our existing papers and to set about publishing another weekend paper: We don't really have the content to pad out the advertising.

It is a problem peculiar to NZ. We have one of the most crowded radio and print environments in the world. Over 4000 magazines. More radio stations in Auckland per capita than anywhere else in the world (or at least it was 5 years ago, not sure now). 6 major weekend papers.

Which is great. Except with only 4 million people that means the talent pool is spread pretty thinly. Conversely it also means that we must have the best advertising sales managers in the world.

This situation may explain why our Sundays see us having certain columnists inflicted upon us.

The Herald on Sunday, in a candid and souless fashion, came right out and said it - advertiser pressure was one of the reasons for its existence.

How else can you explain, living in a civilised country steeped in Christian-traditions, on a weekly basis our having Rosemary McLeod, Michael Laws, Mike Hosking and Frank Haden, to name but a few, inflicted upon us on the Sabbath.

Nothing personal against this lot, of course, talented and wonderful etc. But well, the weekend read in England is what they save the cream of their talent for. Writing of note about people of note.

In NZ however, it is a different story. It is a dual indignity too, for some reason we aren't simply happy with our tendency to examine our public figures through Celebrity Treasure Island as opposed to insightful profiles, no, on top of this we also get to also read their innermost thoughts on our day off.

You can't help but be reminded of that old joke - first prize one week in Sydney, second prize two weeks in Sydney, third prize - well, you get the idea.

The trick is that personal musings are much cheaper and easier to fill the space between ads with than investigative pieces or even worthwhile profiles and essays.

Perhaps if we look at three of our columnists to illustrate- Michael Laws, Mike Hosking and Colin Meads.

Michael Laws is now a bonafide media guy. From enfant terrible of NZ politics to talking head in ten years. Still it could have been worse, it could have been five.

Laws wrote one of the best books on politics here, The Demon Profession, but has spent the intervening time espousing NZ First heartland attitudes through all mediums and undoing that original good work.

It is quite fitting, I guess, that a man who left politics for being inventive with words, through that forgery kerfuffle, is now a wordsmith in the Sunday Star Times.

Still, there is something disquieting about getting up on a Sunday and reading about his sex life, as so often happens to be the case with his column.

Perhaps the real problem is his talking about sex, in mildly misogynistic and never-quite-got-his-head-around-women terms, considering that he bunks down on that page with Rosemary McLeod.

Something about the juxtaposition can really throw me off my weet-bix.

Laws also examines the issues of the week, and after a whole week of trying these out on talkbalk land, through his radio....... show, they are turning into Garth George-light offerings.

Thank god, one Garth George heavy is quite enough.

For ample examples of these twin problems you only have to look to last Sunday's offering.

He manages to get a sexual reference in by line twenty "ready for bed, but the difference is that these days it is for sleep", and even before that, just ten lines in, he sets up a mental picture of himself naked, cellulite and all, in front of a full length mirror.

All that in the first two, short, paragraphs, and this is by no-means a record.

The term Florid doesn't do the writing justice - "....the problem with post-modern liberalism. It gives out like a whore but considers itself Mother Theresa".

A sentence that overburdened on both axes really needs a fulcrum, and probably ought to look like a see-saw.

The talkback honed simplicities soon emerge too. Talking on the Burqa case, they come thick and fast - "Much the same argument, presumably, runs through the minds of Muslim Fundamentalists who can fly jet planes into buildings, kill children in schoolrooms and incinerate Aussie partygoers with car bombs."

All in all, and about the only thing you can say charitably, is that it would appear that the only shades of grey Michael Laws sees these days are in his hair.

Moving right along then, to Mike Hosking.

I'm slightly concerned as to where to start with Hosking. After undergoing the most public mid-life crisis in New Zealand's history everyone has had a shot at him. His columns in the Star-Times come second only to 'About Town' in the much bagged but even more read category.

My only real concern is his frequent mentions of his twins - up there, almost, with Linda Clark. As an aside what is it with media personalities and twins - Mary Lambie, who must be milf to the nation if Judy Bailey is mother to the nation, has just popped some out also....

Anyway these mentions come after the costly and emotionally taxing case he took through pretty much every court in the land to stop New Idea publishing paparazzi pictures of them.

Because, he maintained, he wanted them away from the public eye.......Yet on a number of occasions there they are.

Still, as their father it really is up to him, though it does look a little funny in light of the cash that pictures paid for of the twins bring in as opposed to papparazi pickings.

Right - so his Wine column.

Hosking describes it as being written from the position of enthusiast rather than expert, and this allows it to be free of jargon. Refreshingly free of jargon. Unfortunately it is also mostly free of content.

My personal favourite must be the one in which he mentioned a recent mid week 2? day trip to San Francisco. A trip taken on a whim. How does one afford to do something like that, you have to wonder, how is this in keeping with the idea of a non-elitist wine column? It did serve to make concrete my jealous suspicion that it was criminal that he should be paid to write such garbage.

The real danger with wine writing is the trap of pretension that encircles the entire pursuit. A trap Hosking continues to stumble into. Columns are peppered with mentions of long lunches at trendy establishments, offers being put to him, junkets, in fact he doesn't so much write them as effuse them. Your average Joe might find them a bit painful, though Hosking goes to some lengths to assure us that Central Otago Pinot Noir, aside from being delightful, is not out of reach of the average man - he should just buy less and better. Thanks Mike, I'll put that cask down on your say-so.

The final straw for me really was the column talking about the increasing use of screw tops on wine. I paraphrase here but you'll get the drift - 'Tradition is being ignored' thundered the man formerly famous for being prematurely fuddy duddy, before his hip, gay-Sydney make-over. 'If ever', he finished the column by saying, 'Mouton du Rothschild, that wonderful French winemaker were to use a screw top then I would take my own life'.

Aside from the vaguely hysterical reactionary pomposity it put me in mind of a very funny scene - a French postman struggling under the weight of his mail sack - it has to be a man - this is France ok - making his way up to the Mouton du Rothschild vineyards.

On reaching the door he collapses, the owners come out and can't work out quite why their postman expired bringing them a full sack of letters from New Zealand.

'Nouvelle Zealande?'

And every single one, for some reason entirely unfathomable to them, asking that they produce a screw top vintage for New Zealand.

Enough of that before it gets silly - now perhaps Colin Meads.

Pinetree is known for a great many things; bravery, stoicism, taking the Cavaliers to apartheid South Africa, strength, investment advice. He is the only NZer alive that can be mentioned in the same breath as Hillary in icon terms.

What he has not previously been so widely known for is his writing.

The Herald on Sunday have fixed this by getting him on board as a rugby writer. And a very good idea too, as when Meads has commented on things of late, before getting the column that is, he has always been classic.

My favourite would be his pronouncements on what was ailing the John Hart era All Blacks. What they didn't need, according to Meads, was all of these sports psychologists and media managers and personal assistants and dieticians and all the other modern day soothsayers. No opined Pinetree, they didn't need all that clap trap. What they needed was more mongrel. And the best way to get that was from more red meat.

- ok so maybe they did need dieticians but only of the Meads variety.

Absolutely brilliant. When I heard he was getting the column I was really looking forward to seeing what Meads would have to say about the new look metrosexualised david beckham influenced sports stars of today.

Surely the man who played on with broken bones would have something to say about the All Black wearing eye-liner, or Daniel Carter's grin and package adorning everything from buildings to bus shelters, or Carlos Spencer's variations-on-roadkill hairstyles.

But sadly no. Thing is that Meads comes from a school of manly manners in which taking a bloke down a peg in public isn't on. Much to our loss.

Instead his columns have been real meat and two veg stuff, no flourishes, just non-egotistically dispensed advice and gruff opinions.

I really enjoy the easy blokiness of his writing - "He's a tremendous fella and I bet he and Richie McCaw are great mates". Great stuff even within the brief remit he has set himself and by far the best thing in the Herald on Sunday.

So there we go. Perhaps, just as a thought, this little review would have been a lot rosier if we'd been looking at the returns these papers must be making, rather than looking at the returns to the reader for a Sunday morning spent on them.

*** ENDS ***

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