Vale, War­wick Roger, Metro’s found­ing edi­tor.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents -

The found­ing edi­tor of Metro, War­wick Roger, who died in Au­gust, be­lieved jour­nal­ism was “God’s work”. Ni­cola Le­gat, who later edited the mag­a­zine her­self, re­mem­bers Roger’s fear­less­ness, love of great writ­ing and fas­ci­na­tion with his city.

Work­ing for War­wick Roger at Metro gave many of us the jobs of our lives, a lucky break, a ca­reer start and the op­por­tu­nity at what had to be the best jour­nal­ism gig in town.

Sadly, three of the bright­est, shini­est young stars to whom he gave a start are no longer with us: Max Chap­ple, An­drew Heal and Jan Cor­bett, in all of whom War­wick saw that thing that he ar­gued ta­lented young jour­nal­ists have in com­mon with sheep dogs: bright eyes.

War­wick was fa­mous for such apho­risms. What he in­tended for all the many ta­lented young and not-so-young writ­ers he hired was that they would do what he called “God’s work”.

Metro, of course, did not have a mis­sion state­ment — War­wick would not have en­ter­tained that for a mo­ment — but “do­ing God’s work” would have been a per­fectly ap­pro­pri­ate one.

What did it mean? Go­ing right to the back of the cave to check out the bad smell when no one else would. In­ter­view­ing gi­raffes, not gi­raffe keep­ers. Never us­ing the ex­pres­sion eartagged, or ear­marked: that was for sheep. Writ­ing in a way that was lyri­cal and af­fect­ing. Hav­ing a high fact count, al­ways. Never ac­cept­ing the re­ceived wis­dom about any­thing. And if you could also play cricket at the same time, all the bet­ter.

Louise Cal­lan, one of War­wick’s early great hires, told me she had ground her teeth on his be­half when the first me­dia re­ports of his death linked the words “Metro” and “glossy” — “that old be­lit­tling de­scrip­tion still rear­ing its lazy head,” she said.

Was glossy so bad? Van­ity Fair used to de­scribe it­self as “glossy on the out­side, gritty on the in­side”, and that was what War­wick achieved is­sue by de­ter­mined is­sue.

You couldn’t al­ways see it in those very early is­sues, but once the mag­a­zine hit its stride it was fear­less.

How did he achieve that? Well, he seemed fear­less him­self. Al­ways up for a scrap. Re­fus­ing to kow­tow to the big end of town, the es­tab­lish­ment and to ad­ver­tis­ers — and to their credit the first own­ers of the mag­a­zine backed him on that and took some brave de­ci­sions.

We as his writ­ers seemed to ab­sorb that fear­less­ness. That’s why Car­roll du Chateau could do all those great crime sto­ries and go to some scary places armed only with a pen and a note­book.

Many of us had no for­mal jour­nal­ism train­ing. I was a young free­lancer when War­wick pub­lished my first story in the sec­ond is­sue. Oth­ers of us came straight out of jour­nal­ism school. Vin­cent Heeringa had been a se­condary school sci­ence teacher. War­wick joked that he res­cued Jan from a Ro­torua chemist shop.

In­deed, if you worked at one of the big pa­pers he’d be un­likely to look at you. He wanted fresh, new, hun­gry. I don’t be­lieve, though, that he wanted yes men. The sto­ries were too chal­leng­ing for that. We had to have an in­ner steel, and he showed us how to build it.

He gave all of us faith in our abil­i­ties as writ­ers. He loved great jour­nal­ism, great writ­ing, so in­tensely. We would of­ten find pho­to­copies of sto­ries he’d read in in­ter­na­tional mag­a­zines and that he thought we could learn from left on our key­boards.

He prac­tised what he preached. He never lost the love of writ­ing him­self. He was a ded­i­cated prac­ti­tioner, who seemed to do it so ef­fort­lessly. It no doubt frus­trated him at times that as edi­tor he couldn’t do as much of it as he would have liked.

He was in­tensely in­ter­ested in what­ever story we were as­signed to. When you came back in from an in­ter­view, he’d ask: What can you re­veal?

And fil­ing that story — al­ways “by dawn” on a given date — felt a lit­tle bit like hand­ing in an exam pa­per. There would be a cou­ple of days of si­lence and then a sheet of pa­per cov­ered with ques­tions and writ­ten in War­wick’s metic­u­lously tidy hand­writ­ing would ap­pear on your desk. Job not yet com­plete.

He would of­ten sit us down be­side him as he did his fi­nal edit on our sto­ries and ex­plain why he was do­ing this or that to our texts. He was pol­ish­ing it for us un­til it shone.

By the late 1980s, Metro was a mas­sive mag­a­zine. The sta­ples could barely hold it to­gether. He would be do­ing that sort of de­tailed work on up to eight fea­ture sto­ries, many of them of 12,000 words or more. I don’t know how he did it. His work ethic was prodi­gious. And he was ef­fi­cient — he didn’t of­ten work late and he and Robyn al­ways had time for a good long hol­i­day ev­ery year. He just put his shoul­der to the wheel and did it.

He and art di­rec­tor Wil­liam Chen cre­ated an in­cred­i­bly high-func­tion­ing ma­chine through which mas­sive mag­a­zines ran smoothly. There was never any panic at dead­line time: some­times you wouldn’t even no­tice we were on dead­line. He was an in­cred­i­ble plan­ner — the mag­a­zine’s con­tent would have been mapped out months in ad­vance, and the plan­ning for many of the jointly writ­ten sto­ries like “Power in Auck­land” and the many state-ofthe-na­tion pieces were scoped with huge pre­ci­sion.

And on the sub­ject of power, let me note that these were the sorts of top­ics that War­wick loved. What made Auck­land tick? Re­ally tick. Not the tick­ing the PR peo­ple wanted you to be­lieve.

And what made Auck­land func­tion? He com­mis­sioned his fair share of sto­ries about roads and sew­er­age. I re­mem­ber Deb­o­rah Hill Cone snorting some­where that the mag­a­zine had be­come like a cross be­tween the New States­man and a drainage en­gi­neer’s news­let­ter. Quite funny re­ally. But to War­wick these things mat­tered. He wanted to know how things worked, what peo­ple did.

And so we would be sent out for an­other 24 hours with a mid­wife, a youth-aid of­fi­cer, an am­bu­lance driver.

I think his love for and fas­ci­na­tion with Auck­land came from be­ing born right in the heart of it, in Green­lane, go­ing to its old schools, work­ing for one of its ven­er­a­ble pa­pers. The old city was deep in his bones. In many ways it was a dirty old town, with a lot in com­mon with any other port city on the edge of the Pa­cific, a pro­vin­cial place. How Auck­land was re­shap­ing it­self through the 1980s and 1990s, in par­tic­u­lar the grow­ing Maori and Pasi­fika pop­u­la­tion and what that might mean, in­trigued him.

By the 1990s, Metro was writ­ing about poverty and the per­ni­cious link with ill health, ed­u­ca­tional un­der­achieve­ment and alien­ation. “An Un­for­tu­nate Ex­per­i­ment at Na­tional Women’s” is of­ten namechecke­d as the high-wa­ter mark of its in­ves­tiga­tive pow­ers but so, too, were Les­ley Max’s un­flinch­ing sto­ries on the killing of lit­tle Del­celia Wi­tika, which forced the na­tion to con­front the bru­tal truth of child abuse. And Bruce Jes­son’s work on the strug­gles of the work­ing poor fig­ured here, too.

Along­side that was bril­liant cov­er­age of the arts, sport, in­cred­i­bly in-depth pro­files, the ground­break­ing restau­rant re­views, and huge sup­port for New Zealand nov­el­ists: a short story each is­sue and the sum­mer six pack of short fic­tion.

There was great de­sign and pho­tog­ra­phy, helmed by Wil­liam and his team. There was im­mense fun. Get­ting to­gether to work on “20 Ques­tions” each is­sue was a high­light of ev­ery month.

War­wick wasn’t scared of putting a dif­fer­ent view in front of his read­ers. He didn’t want cosy. He hired Syd Jack­son, Rang­inui Walker and Bruce Jes­son as columnists.

The columnists might have been mostly men but the fea­ture writ­ers in many is­sues were mostly women; and the opin­ion writ­ers were more di­verse than we see any­where to­day. It was the broad­est of churches and that’s why it worked.

It wasn’t al­ways easy work­ing for War­wick. He could be thin-skinned. He felt the grow­ing com­pe­ti­tion and the frac­tur­ing of the me­dia scene keenly, and in the later years of his ed­i­tor­ship the dip of the weekly sales fig­ures could put him into a funk. But he didn’t of­ten talk to us about any dark nights of the soul and it was not un­til I later be­came edi­tor my­self that I could see the stress that he lived un­der and the es­sen­tial lone­li­ness of the job.

His fights weren’t al­ways our fights. And of course pick­ing fights came with con­se­quences. The Toni McRae defama­tion trial brought some who had been bruised in com­bat ea­ger to the wit­ness stand. That was tough to see.

It was also tough to see how, af­ter the trial, he lost heart and felt he had to step down. But by mov­ing across to North & South, he at last did have time to be a writer first and fore­most.

War­wick’s words, his max­ims, of­ten come to me. I re­mem­ber him de­scrib­ing his drive home to Ti­ti­rangi. As he turned the cor­ner into Wil­liamson Ave from Pon­sonby Rd, the road would stretch ahead, to­wards the Waitakere Ranges and the set­ting sun. Of Wil­liamson Ave he said: “There’s a lot of Auck­land in that one road.” I drive down it most weeks, and there still is. I won­der how many peo­ple no­tice it as War­wick did.

You couldn’t start a mag­a­zine like Metro these days, for so many rea­sons. But was it in fact even easy back then, in those dog days un­der Mul­doon? It took a huge leap of faith for Metro’s own­ers to hire this young man who turned out to have the trick of blend­ing the great jour­nal­ism of the Amer­i­can mag­a­zines like Esquire and New York with the nose-thumb­ing at­ti­tude of the Bri­tish pe­ri­od­i­cals like Pri­vate Eye. It was the recipe for the era. Read­ers flocked to it. Their tim­ing was per­fect.

And he fol­lowed that recipe, 12 is­sues a year for 13 years, never short of fresh ideas. He helped loosen the print me­dia up; his ris­ing tide lifted all boats. He was ballsy. He en­acted HL Mencken’s im­pre­ca­tion: to com­fort the af­flicted and af­flict the com­fort­able. What we all learned from him has re­mained in us all.

I think his love for and fas­ci­na­tion with Auck­land came from be­ing born right in the heart of it, in Green­lane, go­ing to its old schools, work­ing for one of its ven­er­a­ble pa­pers. The old city was deep in his bones.


LEFT— War­wick Roger, pho­tographed by Toaki Okano for the 25th an­niver­sary is­sue of Metro, May 2006.

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