Hard News by Russell Brown


The Wall and the Paper

In the last two years, the Sunday Star Times' circulation has fallen by 14,000 copies. According to Nielsen, it has shed 30,000 readers since 2009. Some of those sales and readers may have been lost to newspapers altogether, but some has undoubtedly gone to its rival, the Herald on Sunday, which continues to see modest, steady growth.

David Kemeys, who moved from Suburban Newspapers to become SST editor in May last year, needed to address the slide and recently did so with a revamp that dispensed with Finlay Macdonald's column and promoted Michael Laws' to lead a new op-ed page. A new tabloid-sized Business section is lively and effective, but other parts of the revamped paper seem confusing.

Meanwhile, Kemeys has been declared an "idiot" and worse by his former Sunday magazine columnist Steve Braunias, sent a mildly threatening legal letter to Brian Edwards in defence of Jonathan Marshall's honour, and failed to make best use of the Wikileaks "Wellington cables" brought in by Nicky Hager.

This week, he will doubtless be receiving some stern correspondence in response to Michael Laws' extremely unpleasant column on Sunday.

A challenge also exists in the digital strategy being rolled out by the paper's owner, Fairfax. The SST's newsroom effectively doesn't exist now -- it's an Auckland bureau that combines the Star Times, the Sunday News and Stuff and is increasingly orientated towards daily delivery. The Star Times is nowhere near as separate from Stuff as the Herald on Sunday is from the New Zealand Herald.

So there are a few issues there, and I'll be asking Kemeys about them on Media7 this week. I'll also be asking exactly who reads Michael Laws' columns before they go to print.


For decades in New Zealand, the fitness of art and literature was largely judged at the border by people whose primary job was to prevent art and literature from entering the country: Customs officers. Standards of merit were inconsistent and unclear, and it wasn't until the Indecent Publications Act, 1963 (world-leading legislation for its time) that an Indecent Publications Tribunal was established as a single arbiter of indecency in books, magazines and sound recordings. Two members of the Tribunal were required to have qualifications in literature or education.

Fast-forward to today, and Auckland's shiny new Super City. Are we seeing a return to a past where artistic merit is assessed by officers whose primary role is prevention? That's how the strange case of Askew One and the Poynton Terrace wall is looking to some people.

Askew is a longtime graffiti artist (and video and creative director) who you may recall from last year's Orcon Great Blend at The Civic, where he presented a collaboration with painter Karl Maughan. A few of you bought pieces of the work on the night.

Poynton Terrace is a little out-of-the-way street off Karangahape Road and the site of a wall Askew has painted and re-painted over a decade, with the permission of the building's owners and tenants. In what everyone now seems to acknowledge was a mistake, the wall was painted over in an ugly green by a council crew.

It appeared that a happy ending had been contrived after the council admitted its mistake -- but suddenly Askew exploded on Twitter. He would not be painting the wall because, he said, the Auckland Council's graffiti prevention advisor, Rob Shields, had intervened. Shields spoke to the building's owner and convinced him that he, Shields, should take charge of the repainting of the private wall -- and stipulate its content. Askew was invited to apply to paint the wall, according to Shields' guidelines, which proposed a historical theme and (curiously for street art) no use of words in the painting.

Former policeman Shields, as is clear in this New Zealand Herald video, is a man who loves his work:

As Peter McLennan notes, it seems that Shields has been involved with the painting-over of other murals, such as the one on this wall in Parnell, which was promptly tagged once the big, colourful piece that used to be there was removed.

Peter's post also notes some comments from the creators of the Parnell work, and Askew himself has laid it all down in a long and furious post on his own blog:

Council funded murals deemed as 'acceptable' by Rob Shields are generally awful in my opinion. Take a look at the atrocious mural work near the New Market station and the putrid historic city-scape at the Boston road station for example. Neither of these paintings could be deemed as current, compelling or particularly well executed for that matter. One of my only dealings with Rob Shields on a mural project he had us paint people mowing lawns. I am not kidding.

It is reasonable at this point to ask the mayor what exactly is going on, and Mayor Len Brown will be joining us on Media7 to answer some questions.


So, it's going to be an interesting show. If you'd like to come along to the recording tomorrow, present yourself at the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ between 5.15 and 5.45pm. As ever, try and email me to let me know you're coming.

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