Today's Drinnan covers one of the claims circulated in a release from former Herald on Sunday assistant editor Steve Cook, in advance of the hearing of his Employment Relations Authority complaint against APN yesterday.
The claim is summarised thus:
The document alleged that for a time in 2005 a Herald on Sunday reporter who lived opposite the Sunday Star-Times office in Auckland's New North Road had a clear view of the office of SST editor Cate Brett.
The reporter was allegedly given a telescope.
According to the document, Brett at the time wrote on a whiteboard details of the Sunday Star-Times' upcoming stories and photographs and the reporter with the telescope was told to ring through details to editor Shayne Currie.
Herald on Sunday chief reporter David Fisher, who owned the telescope, has asked us if we could publish his account of what actually happened. It follows below.
The telescope story has grown beyond the point where it can be ignored, and grown more fanciful with each retelling. If you haven't heard it, you can find it in the original version of Steve Cook's employment case against my employer, and his former employer, the Herald on Sunday.
It goes like this: that editor Shayne Currie forced Jonathan Marshall, a current Sunday News journalist, into hiding a camera in his apartment to spy on the Sunday Star-Times.
This allegation will not be made in the Employment Relations Authority hearing today. It was struck out as admissable evidence, and not related to Cook's dismissal. How do I know the contents of confidential documents submitted and rejected by the tribunal? Because Cook has bandied so many copies around town to get media interested in covering his case that one came close to me.
I refused to take a copy. I didn't want to be close to something so fraught, messy and none of my business. But one story I've heard from it in the last few days was this telescope story. I know it to be false, because it was my telescope, and along with Marshall, both our ideas. It was a joke driven by a sense of mischief, and one that Currie had no part in organising - or even knew about until after it was used.
The mischief was conceived around the habit of then Star-Times editor Cate Brett, who I admire greatly, leaving her office for the evening with the light left on and blinds open. I drove past on my way home sometimes - a friend and Star-Times staff member lives nearby and at the time, I was free to visit often.
By coincidence, at this time, Marshall moved in opposite the Star-Times office. I have known him for years and find him endearing and infuriating in equal measure, mainly in both regards the madcap schemes that spring up around him. I can't recall if he was working for the Herald on Sunday then, but I think not. I'm sure at that time he was commuting to Waikato for a year-long journalism course.
Marshall invited me around to see his new flat, one or the other of us joking about it being close enough to spy on the Star-Times to talking about the light left on. The joke continued, and I brought from home a telescope to put behind the blinds, and duly peered through it, trying to train it through the office window.
I say joke because the first time I stopped at that intersection, and looked across the road at the editor's office, my first thought was: "Bloody hell, they've pinned all their pictures up on the wall and you can see them from the road." Second thought was to get a photographer where I was with a 600mm lens for less than 10 seconds - in and out. With a high quality camera, and digital zoom, we would know, and could study, everything the opposition was doing photographically.
If it was a serious scheme, that would have been the way to do it. But it would have been pretty cheap. I have friends there who have the same belief and pride in their work as I do. One of my dearest friends was working as a photographer there at the time. I think Cate Brett, the editor, is one of the finest actual journalists to lead a newspaper in decades. Her staff, my friends, thought the same. I would not steal their work, even when it was made so easy.
Which was why I was drinking beer with Marshall, occasionally squinting through a telescope. It did occasionally bring a photograph into focus, but have you ever tried looking at a newspaper and guessing the content of a story by its picture? It can't be done, or at least, not in a way that would give real benefit to a competing journalist.
And the telescope? It was given to me one Christmas to look at stars. I don't really know how to use it. I still haven't seen a star through it, before the telescope spent six months at Marshall's, or since I got it back. In the time Marshall had it, it was used three times, none seriously. The length of time it stayed with Marshall is not an indication of use, rather than not getting around to pick it up.
Currie found out about it some time after it was in there, and in my recollection, wasn't particularly comfortable it was there. There's been a number of editors who, at times, have wanted to scream with frustration in dealing with something that seemed funny to me at the time. He's another, and a very good editor too.
The telescope event was quickly forgotten until it emerged in this testimony of Steve Cook's. It is his evidence and I know it to be false. Jonathan Marshall also knows this, and I hope his friendship with Cook will not keep him from confirming it.
And if I know that portion to be false, what regard would I hold his other claims? I know the answer to that. With the same regard in which I personally hold Cook's stories about Sharon Shipton, Debbie Gerbich, Kirsty Gillon and Maycsena King.