Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

On Wage Cuts, And The Listener’s Demise

Various levels of across the board wage cuts – 10%? 15% ?- are being mooted for workers in some of our larger firms, in order to help the likes of Fletchers, Mediaworks etc survive the Covid-19 crisis. It is extraordinary that unions should be having to explain to employers (and to the public) just how unfairly the burden of such a response would fall. Basically, if you’re on a salary in six figures, a 10-15% haircut can still be worn fairly lightly. If you’re employed at or below the median wage, losing 10% of your income can be a hammer blow.

Arguably, the top executives in our major corporates should be leading from the front. If top executives could agree that say, $100,000 - $150,000 was the maximum remuneration affordable for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis, their work forces might be more willing to accept a reduction in their own wages. Leadership surely, involves the shielding of the more vulnerable from pain, not the inflicting of it from above.

To get a random idea of how top heavy the remuneration paid being paid to upper management is in New Zealand, look at say, the 2019 annual report of media giant NZME. On page 37, a table says that NZME employs 418 people on salaries above $100,000 – broken down to 343 in the $100,000-200,000 range, 52 more in the 200,000-300,000 range and 15 on salaries above that again. Seven people are paid over $440,000. These kind of figures can be replicated at other major NZ corporates. At Fletcher Building, page 110 of the 2019 annual report shows there are 4,573 people earning above $100,000. Some 3,906 of them are earning between $100,000 and $200,000.

At a time when calls are being made for wage cuts and for the taxpayer to bail out the mainstream media and other major companies…surely a few more gestures of genuine sacrifice need to be made first, by top management.

Goodbye, Listener

No one should be surprised to see Bauer Media use the Covid-19 crisis as its excuse to quit New Zealand. Nor should they be surprised that Bauer spurned the government’s offers of help as it grabbed its hat and headed for the door. Sadly though, many of the goodbyes for some of the best-known magazines in the Bauer stable (the Listener, North and South, NZ Woman’s Weekly) have been eulogies for an era of journalism that had virtually exhausted itself, even before Bauer came on board. Arguably, many of those titles ceased being “essential” reading a decade before Covid-10 precautions made the fact official. This doesn’t diminish the sympathy due for the 300 or so people who are actually losing their jobs.

As essential parts of our media environment though, I felt more sorry yesterday about the demise of Metro, which has recently been publishing work by young journalists (eg Tess Nichol) whose work has shown more vitality and relevance than much of what the Listener has provided over the past 15 years. In case that sounds like sour grapes…yes, 2006 is about when the Listener and I parted company. Other former colleagues – hi there, Joseph Romanos! – who shared the same fate at the same time would probably agree that with hindsight, getting fired from what the Listener chose to become almost seems now like a badge of honour.

Bauer were never interested in the fabled Listener tradition, or in the wellbeing of the staff the German media empire employed. Rejecting the wage subsidy is pretty typical of them. As the Sydney Morning Herald article linked to below pointed out back in 2012, Bauer’s disdain for its staff is legendary, even by the normal standards of the cut-throat media industry. Its top executives made it clear they had no interest in owning magazines that sought to be a forum for ideas.

Bauer, a tightly family-controlled publishing house, made its name in Germany in the '60s and '70s with its stable of TV guides, mass-market women's and gossip rags, and erotic men's mags, but struggled to break into the quality end of its home market. With a reputation for unhappy working conditions at some of its publications, there was an adage in German media that ''people don't go to Bauer, they come from Bauer''.

Or, as the empire’s patriarch Heinz Bauer once famously put it in 2009: “We don't want to educate our readers, but distract them.'' Listener management did its best to oblige. If any future historian wants to identify the social anxieties and lifestyle choices of the baby boomer generation as it entered old age, the Listener cover stories of the past 15 years will be a treasure trove.

To be fair, it hasn’t all been dross over that period. Rebecca Macfie’s reporting, especially on Pike River, was exceptional, in more ways than one. Lets not kid ourselves that we’ve just lost a taonga, though. We did, but it was around the time Finlay Macdonald walked out of the editor’s office. It was that long lost magazine that gave me the chance to write about rock music and get into journalism, and I’ll always be grateful to it. In its recent incarnation, it had dwindled into an irrelevance.

Footnote One. My previous defence of the old Listener tradition can be found here.

Footnote Two : Weirdly, one news outlet has sought to blame the government for Bauer’s decision to close down its titles, and scarper. According to Newshub, after Bauer had refused the wage subsidy, it then asked the government to buy its magazine titles. The government refused to be held to ransom and in Newshub’s view at least, it was wrong not to do so. Really? One can only imagine the screams of outrage if the government began picking and choosing among the losers, and nationalising them at taxpayer expense. Imagine the jibes if PM Jacinda Ardern had ended up owning the NZ Woman’s Weekly. In reality, this outcome is Bauer’s fault alone.

The more valid criticism is that successive governments had felt few qualms about letting one foreign firm gain control of such a large swathe of our magazine market. However, general interest magazines have been dying all around the world, and Bauer was welcomed in as providing a lifeline. Keep in mind that The Bulletin, Australia’s equivalent to the Listener, had folded in 2008. Unfortunately, we’ll never know if around that time, an alternative direction for the Listener had been taken : something more like Macdonald’s, but an even more fearless magazine of ideas. By taking that course, the Listener might have carved out a new and younger audience for itself.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Binoy Kampmark: Budget Cockups In The Time Of Coronavirus: Reporting Errors And Australia’s JobKeeper Scheme

Hell has, in its raging fires, ringside seats for those who like their spreadsheets. The seating, already peopled by those from human resources, white collar criminals and accountants, becomes toastier for those who make errors with those spreadsheets. ... More>>


The Dig - COVID-19: Just Recovery

The COVID-19 crisis is compelling us to kick-start investment in a regenerative and zero-carbon future. We were bold enough to act quickly to stop the virus - can we now chart a course for a just recovery? More>>

The Conversation: Are New Zealand's New COVID-19 Laws And Powers Really A Step Towards A Police State?

Reaction to the New Zealand government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown has ranged from high praise to criticism that its actions were illegal and its management chaotic. More>>


Keith Rankin: Universal Versus Targeted Assistance, A Muddled Dichotomy

The Commentariat There is a regular commentariat who appear on places such as 'The Panel' on Radio New Zealand (4pm on weekdays), and on panels on television shows such as Newshub Nation (TV3, weekends) and Q+A (TV1, Mondays). Generally, these panellists ... More>>

Jelena Gligorijevic: (Un)lawful Lockdown And Government Accountability

As the Government begins to ease the lockdown, serious questions remain about the lawfulness of these extraordinary measures. Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee has indicated it will issue summonses for the production of legal advice about the ... More>>


Caitlin Johnstone: Do You Consent To The New Cold War?

The world's worst Putin puppet is escalating tensions with Russia even further, with the Trump administration looking at withdrawal from more nuclear treaties in the near future. In addition to planning on withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty ... More>>


Binoy Kampmark: Why Thinking Makes It So: Donald Trump’s Obamagate Fixation

The “gate” suffix has been wearing thin since the break-in scandal that gave it its birth. Since Watergate, virtually anything dubious and suggestive, and much more besides, is suffixed. Which brings us to the issue of President Donald Trump’s ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Ethics (and Some Of The Economics) Of Lifting The Lockdown

As New Zealand passes the half-way mark towards moving out of Level Four lockdown, the trade-offs involved in life-after-lockdown are starting to come into view. All very well for National’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith to claim that “The number one priority we have is to get out of the lockdown as soon as we can”…Yet as PM Jacinda Ardern pointed out a few days ago, any crude trade-off between public health and economic well-being would be a false choice... More>>


Binoy Kampmark: Brutal Choices: Anders Tegnell And Sweden’s Herd Immunity Goal

If the title of epidemiological czar were to be created, its first occupant would have to be Sweden’s Anders Tegnell. He has held sway in the face of sceptics and concern that his “herd immunity” approach to COVID-19 is a dangerous, and breathtakingly ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Trans-Tasman Bubble, And The Future Of Airlines

As the epidemiologists keep on saying, a trans-Tasman bubble will require having in place beforehand a robust form of contact tracing, of tourists and locals alike - aided by some kind of phone app along the lines of Singapore’s TraceTogether ... More>>

 
 
 
 
 


 
 
 
  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog