Taranaki Herald staff gather to mark closure

Taranaki Herald staff gather to mark closureTaranaki Herald editor from 1987-89, Lance Girling-Butcher, holds the final front page at the paper's closure in 1989. Photo from the library of Lance Girling-Butcher.

Former staff members of New Zealand regional daily, the Taranaki Herald, are holding a reunion this month to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the paper’s closure.

Broadcaster Derryn Hinch, Newspaper Publishers Association editorial director Rick Neville, former Dominion editor Richard Long and writer, actor and director Oscar Kightley will be among those to attend the reunion over the Labour Weekend in New Plymouth.

First hitting the presses in 1852, the Herald was the oldest newspaper in the country until its closure in 1989.

Beginning as an afternoon edition, it merged with its competitor, morning paper the Daily News under Taranaki News Ltd in 1962.

Former Auckland Star editor Jim Tucker, his brother, photographer Rob Tucker, Taranaki Daily News writer Rob Maetzig, former Herald editor Lance Girling-Butcher and Powerco communications advisor Krysti Wetton formed a committee to organise the reunion.

“It was a great training ground,” said Jim Tucker, who started out his career in journalism at the Herald in 1965.

Back then, print was still the main news outlet for most New Zealanders, he said. “TV was starting to bite, but print was important, especially in provincial areas.”

A legendary figure from the paper’s heyday was formidable editor June Litman, who worked on the paper from 1942 until her retirement in 1986. “We all still have her little voice in the backs of our heads,” Mr Tucker said.

“She was only about five foot tall but my God, we’d toss our copy in the basket at lunch time and head over to the pub for a lunchtime beer with one ear cocked – waiting for the yell, ‘Tucker! Get over here!’

“I hated her for the first year – but we all grew to respect her enormously.”

Derryn Hinch, who had two stints at the Herald in the 1960s, credited Ms Litman with starting him on his journalist journey “now spanning 54 years”.

He was the only journalist to be fired by editor Rash Avery, who later became editor of the Daily News, after he failed to turn up to run copy from a rugby ground. “Never been sacked by a nicer bloke, as I told him at the time,” Mr Hinch said.

Mr Avery died in 2011 and his widow, Peggy Avery, will be guest of honour at the reunion dinner.

In 1971 Mr Tucker spent a year investigating pollution of Taranaki rivers. “I refer to them now as the technicolour streams they ran white, red, brown and green,” he said.

His efforts yielded an investigative series which won an award that year, while the dairy industry – which was a target of the investigation for dumping run-off in the waterways – threatened to take Avery to court.

Mr Tucker is set to publish a book this month, Clearing The Water, revisiting those rivers which are now in “very good condition”, and it has already earned an award from the National Rivers Trust.

Mr Tucker also recalled his first murder case at the Herald in 1968, which he came upon alongside Mr Girling-Butcher, who was working for the Daily News. “It was a bizarre case,” Mr Tucker said – the principal of Inglewood High School was shot dead in the school’s foyer by a 15 year old with a home-made gun.

“We were pretty over-awed and we rushed back to our respective offices, thinking ‘here’s some front page news’, and we both got one paragraph on the front page.” It was the same day of the Wahine ferry disaster, in which 50 people were killed.

“It was one of those moments you get in journalism.”

The reunion will be held over three days, from October 24 to 26, with the main dinner on Saturday, October 25.

For more information as well as photos and stories from throughout the paper’s history, visit heraldreunion.wordpress.com.

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