Who will buy?

November 20, 2012

APN has announced it is to sell its South Island titles and Wellington community papers.

Among them is the Oamaru Mail where I started my journalism career.

. . . In a memo to staff, APN describes the decision to quit the twice-weekly giveaway Christchurch paper, The Star, the Oamaru Mail and a clutch of other small, community titles in the South Island and Wellington as a “strategic decision to consolidate its publishing business in the North Island.”

The Star, published Wednesdays and Fridays, has an audited circulation of 71,644, while the Oamaru Mail is one of the country’s smallest, with a circulation of just 2,883. . .

The Mail was an evening paper when I worked for it, 30 years ago, and circulation was dropping then.

Competition from TV and more recently the internet and give away papers has further eroded its circulation.

A decision to make it a morning paper put it head to head with the Otago Daily Times which has fewer of the local and parish pump stories the Mail covers but a lot more other news and features.

There’s no mention of a price in the media release but APN will be dreaming if they’re asking for much.

Who would want to buy it?

There might be an entrepreneur out there looking for a challenge, and this would be a big one.

The Mail still provides a service for locals but a paper with low and declining circulation won’t be an attractive business proposition.


Lifetime achievement award for Bob Berry

February 29, 2012

The New Zealand Specialist Cheese Association has presented Whitestone Cheese founder Bob Berry was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to the country’s speciality cheese industry.

Bob started his working life as a stock agent before taking over his own farm. He and his wife Sue started Whitestone Cheese in 1987 in an attempt to overcome the ag-sag.

We were privileged to be at the company’s 25th anniversary celebrations and listened in admiration to the story of how the company started and grew. Whitestone now supplies delicious cheeses to outlets throughout New Zealand and has a growing export market.

The company has been a consistent winner in cheese awards since the early days and in last night’s Cuisine Champions of Cheese awards notched up another two wins – the Vintage Blue won the Ecolab Champion Blue Cheese Award and the Whitestone Range won the Caspack Champion Cheese Packaging Award.

The Oamaru Mail reports:

The company’s flagship cheese, Windsor Blue, has won more awards than any other cheese in New Zealand. Whitestone Cheeses have also been included in gift packs at the Oscars after-parties in the US.

Whitestone Cheese attributes its success to the use of locally sourced ingredients, including rich North Otago milk and traditional cheesemaking techniques.

Earlier this month son and general manager Simon Berry told the Oamaru Mail his father was often still on the road promoting the brand.

“Bob will never retire. He’s a bit like an old farmer; always tapping away at his fences,” he said.

He also acknowledged how Whitestone Cheese had become a proud North Otago institution, creating plenty of regional pride among his workers and the wider community.

“There is a bit of a culture of pride. We’re up there with the world’s best and we’re just from little Oamaru.”

The pride is justified, the cheese is delicious and most of it is named after North Otago localities or geographical features.

You can find out more about the company and order cheese online here.

If you watch the TV ad on the front page, you’ll  hear Bob and get an idea of his passion for his cheese.

The full list of 2012 Cuisine Cheese champions is here.


School “forced” to obey law

September 10, 2011

The headline in the Oamaru Mail (not online) says: Govt ‘bullies school’.

The story says:

Oamaru’s Pembroke School has been forced to include the controversial National Standards in its charter.

Pembroke principal Brent Godfery said yesterday the Ministry of Education had used the Education Act to make the school’s board of trustees amend the charter so it complies.

Shock, horror – the Ministry used the law to bring into line a school which was deliberately flouting it.

. . .  Mr Godfery said just because charters were compliant it did not mean the National Standards were acted upon.

“We will continue to educate our community on the dangers this policy is posing to one of the best educations systems in the world,” he said.

Schools are supposed to be educating its pupils not pushing a political point of view at its community.

No-one denies that our system is very good and that our best students are up with the world’s best. The problem is the long tail of low achievers among whom are the one in five who leave school with illiterate and innumerate.

National Standards won’t by themselves change that but they are a tool which will help identify the children who aren’t learning as well as they ought to be.

However, from what Mr Godfery told the Waitaki Herald,  it isn’t how well pupils are learning but how the school looks which is his main concern:

Like other principals, Mr Godfery was concerned that National Standards’ results would be turned into a league table, ranking schools against each other.

He said such tables weren’t a fair reflection on how schools performed compared to others, due to different decile ratings for schools and pupils who came from non-English speaking backgrounds.

This is the same tired argument too often used to oppose all sorts of innovations in schools and one which is of far more concern to teachers than anyone else.

It might be possible to compare schools as a by-product of National Standards but that’s not its aim. They are simply a tool to monitor children’s performance and progress to ensure teachers and parents know how well children are doing.

Success or failure of the tool won’t be in identifying children who don’t meet the standard but in what happens next to help those who aren’t learning as well as they ought to be.


Why the secrecy when it’s not a secret? – updated

August 11, 2011

Helen Clark is back in New Zealand and told the Bay of Plenty Times she wouldn’t be giving interviews and was “home on family business”.

She is perfectly entitled to visit her family and not give interviews, but I don’t know why she wouldn’t in this case because it was an opportunity for her to promote a very good cause. 

One of the reasons she’s back in New Zealand was to speak at a fundraising dinner for Project HHH – Hearts and Hands for Haiti. That was publicised in the ODT, Oamaru Mail and HHH’s website.

Oamaru nurse Robyn Coupler spent more than 30 years working in Haiti. She was back home when the earthquake which killed more than 230,000 people struck.

She and local supporters set up HHH to help survivors and the trust has sent several teams of doctors, nurses and physiotherapists to Haiti.

Robyn already had local networks and the teams were able to work with local people to give the help they needed most in contrast to the United Nations teams which some thought were doing little good and some harm.

A supporter of HHH contacted Ms Clark who was impressed by the work the charity was doing and offered to help.

That’s it – a good cause, no conspiracy so why the secrecy?

Hat Tip for the BPT link: Whaleoil

UPDATE: The ODT’s report on last night’s funciton is here.


Press Council upholds grieving mother’s complaint

October 16, 2010

The sudden death of a young woman might be news but in May the Oamaru Mail made the mistake of turning it into a front-page sensationalisation of a troubled life.

Her family, confronted with this just two days after the death, was understandably upset. So was the community which responded with a torrent of letters, phone calls and cancelled subscriptions.

The editor, who had written the story, apologised and explained the reasoning behind the decision to run the story. The family wasn’t placated and Elle’s mother complained to the Press Council.

The council upheld her complaint and in doing so said:

The council does not deny the newspaper its right to publish the fact of the death – but it is the way the newspaper went about it that has brought it into conflict with Elle’s family, the local community and the council’s principles.
Publications, particularly those serving small communities, have a particular duty to report tragic events with sensitivity. The untimely death of a young person is distressing to such communities as there is a greater likelihood of individuals being known to one another and, in the event of a highly publicised sudden death, the community becomes alight with speculation.
In this case, the front-page lead article and its accompanying photograph added fuel to fire. It contributed to increased distress and trauma of Elle’s family and friends at this time of tragedy.
The editor did not try hard enough to obtain positive details about Elle; the article was simply a list of her problems with the law.

The paper had tried to contact the family but they understandably had other priorities immediately after the death. Had the Mail stuck to reporting the bare facts at first then waited it might have had the opportunity for another and better story later.

Its haste and insensitivity, compounded by the use of a photo of Elle being arrested, cost it dearly in loss of reputation and readers.

The sudden death of a young woman might be news but the Press Council’s decision shows that coverage of it must be sensitive.


Happy to be a list MP?

October 16, 2010

The Oamaru Mail reports the Labour Party has selected its candidate to contest the Waitaki electorate next year:

Local building contractor Barry Monks has been selected as the Labour Party candidate for Waitaki, The Oamaru Mail can exclusively reveal.

The announcement was delayed because Mr Monks, 40, was standing for an Oamaru Ward council seat in the local body elections.

At the next general election he will take on National’s Jacqui Dean, who beat David Parker in the 2005 and 2008 polls. Mr Monks faces an uphill battle to overturn Mrs Dean’s 11,000-vote majority.

Taking any seat off a popular MP is never easy and the size and configuration of Waitaki make it even harder for a newcomer.

Oamaru is the biggest town in the electorate and tends to be red but Jacqui won every polling booth in the town at the last election. She also won all but two of the 89 polling booths in the more than 20 distinct communities over the 34, 888 square kilometres the electorate covers. Getting traction with voters across that large area is a huge task for a new candidate.

The more interesting part of this announcement is the implication that David Parker isn’t seeking a seat.

When he didn’t seek selection for the Dunedin North seat after Pete Hodgson’s retirement announcement some wondered if he was going to have another tilt at Waitaki.

He won what was then the Otago seat in 2002 but lost it to Jacqui three years later. Boundaries then changed making the electorate even bigger and it gained a new name, Waitaki,  for the 2008 election. David stood against Jacqui in the bigger seat but upset local party people by conceding the seat at a public meeting in Geraldine a couple of weeks before the end of the campaign.

That he didn’t seek selection for either Dunedin North or Waitaki suggests he’s content to remain a list MP.


Gate thief

June 11, 2010

The Oamaru Mail reported that an unexpected consequence of the recent flooding was a reduction in crime.

Unfortunately for us, one of the criminal acts was the theft of three of our gates.

They were just common or garden road side farm gates which cost about $100 each.

What concerns us most is that because the theft happened in the middle of the deluge when lots of roads were closed it almost certainly means the thief or thieves live/s locally.

Apropos of rural thefts – rivetting Kate Taylor is looking for stories of stolen stock.


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