The picture on the cover of Rugby News has caused a bit of controversy this week.
The editor explained the story behind the picture and the story on Facebook:
Given the media exposure around the current edition featuring John Key – in the spirit of openness, I wanted to explain the thinking and reasoning behind the WHOLE process and be totally upfront about ALL aspects.
Firstly – as owner/editor, I am not aligned to the National Party in any way. I am undecided who my vote will go to. Rugby New standpoint (and mine) is that we are not wanting ,or trying, to endorse a candidate or party.
WHY THE ARTICLE?
Firstly – I think if you have any kind of opinion worth listening to you need to read the article too and put it in to context with the front cover.
Over the last 7-8 months, of me putting stories together, I have often come across popular pictures of the PM in the All Blacks changing room, after winning a game. The picture of the PM and Richie having a beer was one. I thought – from an editorial viewpoint – that this was an interesting picture and the seed for an article.
Some of my thoughts were: “Lucky bugger – how cool would that be having a beer with Richie and being in the changing room”. Closely followed by – “How come he gets that and everyday supporters don’t.” Unfair maybe, but that’s how things work.
From there I began thinking that like the PM, or loathe him, he does seem like a genuine rugby fan and obviously a proud Kiwi. This was the start point for the article, but I didn’t want that to be the main aspect.
The main aspect of the article was to see how big the All Blacks brand was overseas from our elected leader’s standpoint – not something that we would know about necessarily. Are we just big in NZ and rugby playing countries? Are we big, just in knowledgeable sporting circles, or does the All Blacks winning brand extend to business/politics in countries that weren’t large rugby nations? In short, the All Blacks brand and how global it is. I imagined that many Kiwi’s may not realise how big-a-deal the AB’s were globally – especially in non-rugby mad countries – and if they did, isn’t it nice to be that respected and in that position?
These two aspects underwrote the article content. It does state that ‘whatever your politics.’ Nowhere did it glorify the PM as a leader, nor did it mention the General Election, or National Party.
As such we wrote an interesting article. I stand by its journalistic credibility as one of a number of rugby themed stories that some people would identify with more than others.
THE FRONT COVER:
The front cover came about through a synergy of ideas. As the issue was about the Rugby Championships, it HAD to have the All Blacks on it. Another article (by Craig Dowd) highlighted the importance of the forwards in the Championship. Hence, the choice of all forwards in the cover picture. We also wanted the PM on the cover issue as having him in the magazine – regardless of his/you/our politics – was something of a coup.
The poses struck were showing the players in a ‘V’ shape – this was to symbolise ‘Victory’. Having the PM at the front of the V (in his supporters jersey) was symbolising all NZ rugby fans – from the lowest/youngest right up to the PM – were right behind our All Blacks, as they went for a world record of wins and in to the (very hard) Rugby Championships.
The title ‘Pack Leader’ was a play on words for the player i/c the forwards in a team and the ‘leaders’ being Richie McCaw (AB’s) and the PM.
#1 All Blacks fan – I am sure people would look at that and think ‘He’s not the number one fan, I am!’ This aspect was about getting people’s attention.
In truth what we set up to do was to produce what, on the face of it, appeared to be a typical, traditional Rugby News cover. What we were looking for is – as people walked through Whitcoull’s – they would walk past and glance, do a double-take, come back and then pick up the magazine to check it out and hopefully buy it. All magazine covers aim to try to draw people in and that is what we were trying to do here beyond our regular, staunch, rugby intelligent customers.
This is the area where – in retrospect – I will concede some journalistic naevity in this regard and also apologise to anyone who was offended. Certainly not what I wanted. I am passionate about rugby at all levels and only interested in the development of the game at all levels and the New Zealand Rugby/All Blacks brand and value.
We started work on the magazine some 6 weeks before it hits the shops at this time there was nothing/very little around the election. Our thoughts about the election only surfaced very close to the actual print date – when the New Zealand Rugby (who were kept fully aware of the article and the cover. It was them who asked that we made it sure that there was a note saying: *Cover image Photo-shopped. Not an official All Blacks/New Zealand Rugby endorsement.
I made the decision that we would go with the cover – for the reasons outlined above. I didn’t for a second imagine it would be swallowed up by the political propaganda machine and make the headlines it has. If I had suspected this, I would not have had the same cover and opted for a quieter life! I simply believed it’s maximum impact would be the Whitcoull’s ‘double-take’ moment. I was wrong and as said before, I apologise to those who feel it was wrong and ill-timed.
I cannot change the decisions and issue now and hope that sincere apologies goes some way to expressing my concern at having upset some people.
I chased the PM’s press secretary to do the story and take his photograph. The National Party/PM’s office did not offer nor give any financial incentive (or other kinds of incentive) and nor did they initiate the story/cover. The PM’s office was kept fully aware at all times.
We told New Zealand Rugby about the story, but only shared the final cover with them just before it went to print. They rightly requested a clarification to make it clear this was not in any way a cover photo endorsed by New Zealand Rugby or the All Blacks.
The New Zealand Rugby are fantastic supporters of Rugby News and outstanding guardians of the game. They are not in any way to blame, or responsible for this article and cover.
I hope that people can appreciate the openness that I have explained here and the thought process behind the article, cover and timing.
In retrospect – a great thing to have – I concede that I did not expect the adverse reaction that I have had from some people or the strength of feeling those people have around this issue. I have learned a valuable lesson there.
I am sorry that this magazine – which is my livelihood – and the game I love and the Rugby News brand may have been tarnished in some people’s eyes. However, the magazine remains highly relevant to Rugby fans and the breadth and quality of our articles is, I believe, the best in NZ as a pre-competition reference magazine.
I would ask that people respect this open and honest explanation and not seek to take parts of it and misrepresent it, me or the Rugby News brand. I would hope that this explanation and frank honesty could be respected – if not applauded by some – as an apology for misreading some people’s depth of opinion and an adult response from a real person and not a heartless, faceless corporate.
Hopefully this is and end to the matter and the focus can return to the Crusaders winning for Canterbury and NZ on Saturday and the All Blacks gaining a world record victory streak and winning the Rugby Championship. Now that really DOES matter!
The story behind this story is one of naivety.
A cover like this was bound to cause a stir at any time and more so this close to an election and anyone atuned to politics would have known that.
But the story behind the story behind the picture is that the editor wasn’t thinking of rugby not politics.
And that’s like a lot of other New Zealanders.
Shortly before the last election I made a comment about the front page story of the paper I was buying to the young man serving me.
It had something to do with the election and his response was, “is there an election this year?”
There’s political tragics like me who are focused on the election and there are a whole lot of others who aren’t .
Among them are people who rarely if ever think of politics and among them will be some people who don’t even know there’s an election in a couple of months.