Notice anything different about the front page of the Royal New Zealand Herald lately?
Take yesterdays headlines; “What Your Home’s Worth”, “The Envelope Please….Oscars Special” and “Mayoress Speaks Out” a teaser to a page three piece of dross which had Michael Laws’s wife, Wanganui’s Mayoress Leonie Brookhammer, denying she had left the family home because of a supposed ‘violent confrontation’ that had been misleadingly reported in the Herald on Sunday.
Ms Brookhammer later published a damning response to the story on Dave Farrar’s “Kiwiblog” site.
Equally, ‘The Lockout of Auckland’ also came from the same Fear and Smear School of Journalism, generating more hysteria than light on the subject of Auckland governance.
If all of this shabby tabloid tack seems more reminiscent of the Herald’s sister paper the “Herald on Sunday” (known by the apt acronym the HoS) there’s a reason for that.
HoS Editor, Shayne Currie, has just been made Deputy Editor of the NZ Herald.
And with this appointment comes Currie’s news values.
Values that put the sex lives of so-called celebrities in the frame alongside crime and property values because that’s what gets the punters in front of their computer screens if not actually holding the hardcopy version in their hands.
Currie would say that it worked for him at the HoS and to a certain degree, commercially speaking, he’s right.
The paper boasted a healthy readership of 382,000 at the end of last year, according to Nielsen Media Research figures.
There’s no doubt that he’s being elevated to the Deputy Editorship to eventually replace incumbent Tim Murphy.
Word from the floor of the Herald newsroom is that Murphy is being elevated higher and higher in the organization, his control over the daily coverage of the paper declining as Currie’s grip tightens.
Readers may remember Murphy’s predecessor as editor Gavin Ellis who was elevated to a point where he eventually evaporated.
And when Currie is in day-to-day control of the paper the question is: What happens to the Herald’s long established role as the newspaper of record?
What will happen to the Herald’s proud record of investigative reporting, detailed commentary and analysis and extensive political coverage?
Going, going, gone.
All those virtues are certainly missing from his former paper, the HoS.
In fits of black humour some Herald journalists are already “Currie-ising” their stories, writing the most tabloid version of the most mundane issues.
To their horror, some who submitted these jokes found themselves praised and the stories printed prominently.
Currie’s reputation as a news manager is Old School.
He’s said to verbally strong-arm his reporters into producing stories by announcing “There’s a hole on the front page of this paper with your name on it.”
Little wonder that under his watch and this kind of pressure the HoS produced some of the most scummiest journalism – and journalists – this country has ever seen.
Back in October, 2005 there was John Manukia who was sacked for allegedly frabricating a story about former South Auckland police officer, Anthony Solomona.
Interestingly, Manukia was named in a brief of evidence about another muckraker, Stephen Cook. In the brief, Cook said that Manukia would be dispatched to the rival Fairfax presses in South Auckland on Saturday night to get an early copy of the Star-Times.
Manukia would take the paper back to the HoS offices and acting under the aegis of senior staff “would proceed to lift stories from the SST without any attribution for publication the following day’s HoS,” Cook said.
Currie admitted to this happening on “possibly two, possibly three occasions in 2005.”
Stephen Cook is a classic Currie appointment – before it all ended in tears.
The former Assistant Editor of the HoS was infamous for pressuring Debbie Gerbich, a colleague of bent cop Brad Shipton’s, into giving him an interview on being told he knew she was advertising for bondage partners.
Gerbich subsequently committed suicide.
The HoS under Currie is a paper of few morals and even fewer scruples.
In his farewell editorial at the HoS Currie said he didn’t mind that “Over the years we’ve become known as the property paper, the car crash paper, the Tony Veitch paper, the All Blacks paper and the Millie Elder paper”.
In other words, he takes pride in printing the crass, the banal, and the predictable.
Take note of his next words; “Selling the paper is of utmost importance, and to achieve that it’s not what be considered the best, traditional journalism that makes the front page”. Or, one suspects, any page.
These are the news values he brings the daily NZ Herald and anyone who buys the Herald because historically it has produced “the best, traditional journalism” is about to be bitterly disappointed.
God Save the Royal New Zealand Herald and all who have to read it.