Hard News by Russell Brown

End of an era

IDG Communications is leaving the New Zealand market, licensing its key titles, including PC World and Computerworld, to Fairfax. Except for Unlimited and IDG's Tone competitor Fast Forward, which are now out of business. [10.20am UPDATE: Not so fast! I wondered if Unlimited was too good to go quietly. Latest info is that there are now a number of options developing to keep the magazine in business, including potential purchasers and a management buyout. Which apart from anything else, means I still have a column deadline ...]

I have a soft spot for IDG, not least because the five years I spent there, from 1996 to 2001, represents the longest period of salaried employment in my life (although the latter half of that was spent working from home - I've never been much of a one for commuting to office jobs). There were the usual ups and downs, but it was in general a highly satisfactory period, which you might gather from the fact that my former boss and I are now business partners. I'm still friends with quite a few other people I met working there.

My time there was essentially the boom time, when a vigorous IT sector funnelled a lot of money through the recruitment section of Computerworld and PC World's readership expanded steadily. There was a good company culture. In part, that culture came from the top: as a privately-held global company, IDG had a strong philosophy of employee welfare, especially for long-termers. I imagine that the shift to Fairfax-style employee relations will not be entirely painless.

In the 90s, there would be quarterly company lunches, when they'd get a temp in to attend the reception desk and everyone else would head off to spend the day bonding. After one particularly robust Christmas do, Rob O'Neill and I ended up at his place, loudly and drunkenly interrogating his prized 7" single collection. We never did work out how those stains got on the ceiling.

More seriously, the company also stood by me on the only occasion in my working life when I have been sued (by Telecom!), and the chance to cover the emerging Internet sector was a unique and valuable one (indeed, it became a specialist subject that still serves me well). The travel - New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando (where the Disney Swan & Dolphin is perhaps the worst large hotel in the world) China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia - was an incredible perk.

I'm particularly sad to see Unlimited go. I was part of the launch, and I think I'm listed as deputy editor in the first issue. It will leave a substantial gap. I haven't been officially notified of the closure yet, but I hope there'll be a get-together before it all goes away.

The irony is that IDG's exit comes as the NZ operation was emphatically back in the black, after several tough years. But the decision seems to have been made at a higher level. The deal is that Fairfax takes the licences for IDG's New Zealand and Singapore publications, and Fairfax sells IDG its British IT publications (most notably MIS, which will be renamed CIO and gives IDG its long-awaited foothold in the UK market).

This could work out well for the remaining publications: IDG NZ was essentially a stand-alone business, so the move to Fairfax might mean access to deeper pockets and more resources. But it's certainly the end of an era. I met some great people at IDG, and my thoughts are with those waiting to see whether they still have jobs.

On a happier note, Jason Rockpig's conversation on 95bFM on Saturday morning with regular show host Mark 'Rhythm Slave' Williams was a pretty extraordinary piece of radio. Slave was live on stage with Fat Freddy's Drop at the Brixton Academy, with 5000 noisy London punters providing the accompaniment. The support act was Breaks Co-Op, who appeared on Top of the Pops on May 21, looking like a sort of Kiwi supergroup, with Rodney from Goodshirt on guitar and backing vocals and that bloke from SJD on drums.

I'll deal with some matters arising (war, politics, alcohol and drugs) in the next couple of days, but for the time being: something totally trippy from Nasa. Bro' Town crosses the torrent barrier (honest Barney, don't fret: being pirated is a mindshare victory!) and, with thanks to reader Richard Le Gros, an absolutely heroic take on the Diet Coke and Mentos experiment. The boy and I are off to the supermarket for supplies real soon now …

Shout-outs to two people for quite different reasons: Jim Traue, who was deservedly named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for a lifetime's service to New Zealand letters and ideas. And Tim Selwyn, who goes up on a ludicrous and inappropriate sedition charge today. He was rightly charged with - and has pleaded guilty to - conspiracy to cause intentional damage (although I think they could have done without the conspiracy part), but the sedition charge is a waste of time and money and a blow against liberty. Tim's personal version of nationalism is eccentric, but his ideas are original and sincerely held, and bringing criminal charges against him for the fact of communicating them is simply wrong.

And finally … the Super 14 quotes whoopsie set me about finding some stupid stuff that one of those named in the bogus quote list actually did say. I dug up a Hard News script from 1999, and these are the concluding paragraphs:

New Zealand and South Africa are currently level in terms of test wins against each other. This test, the return fixture in South Africa and a likely clash at the World Cup will decide the winner not just for the year but for the century. We so have to win this, it hurts.

Some of us, of course will be watching keenly not only for top-notch play, but for yet another batch of Murrayisms. Murray Mexted once again welcomed us into his bizarre inner life in the preamble to the test against the French.

As Sir Howard Morrison laboured his way though the national anthem, Murray yelped: "Sends a tingle up the spine - a tingle in the loins!" and then the word "Cock!" as a French rooster wandered onto the paddock. In the post match debrief he held forth about "the security of having a man up your bottom".

Breathtaking. Right up with Murray classics like:

"He's looking for some meaningful penetration in the backline."

"You don't like to see hookers going down on players like that."

"He's running across field calling out come inside me."

"Everybody knows I've been pumping Martin Leslie for a couple of years now"

And of course, the all-time great Murrayism:

"It's hard sometimes when there's other men coming up your bottom."

Amazing. What will he say this weekend? We can but sit comfortably and wait - G'bye!

Is it any wonder I was briefly confused?