You can see an extended cut of last night's Media Take discussion with Ali Mau, Gavin Ellis and Andy Pickering here. It covers both the topic we originally conceived – the nature and purpose of the gossip press – and the fiasco that followed last week, when a young woman called out the Prime Minister.
The two are not entirely a perfect fit, but they are linked by the presence of two people at the centre of the horrorshow: Rachel Glucina and her editorial patron Shayne Currie.
In Jane Phare's sympathetic profile of Glucina, written in 2012, when the latter moved on from her post as keeper of the Herald on Sunday's Spy section to write The Diary in the daily paper, Currie is quoted:
"A gossip column does have to push the boundaries and unfortunately sometimes we did cross the line. I kick myself over some of the things I didn't edit in or out of her column. It was my responsibility in terms of the tone, not Rachel's."
Spy's tone became "slightly too aggressive" as time went on. "Possibly in some cases it could have been brought back a notch or two."
Currie says it was the most heavily legalled part of the paper. "It got to the point where the contents were run past lawyers as a matter of course, just to be careful."
You don't say. Over the six and a half years that Glucina's mangled syntax was the voice of Spy, lines were crossed any number of times. She was spiteful, vindictive and childish. She was feared not because she was good, but because it appeared that she didn't have any adult moral boundaries. It was not coincidental that she became enmeshed in a bizarre social feud with Cameron Slater, whose whole style has been to drag his professed enemies down into the longdrop pit with him.
But, as Phare points out, she worked hard: she trudged along to those desperate PR "events" on rainy Tuesday nights. She presumably wanted to be better than she was. But no one was there to show her how. She needed an adult.
Instead, her mother, Drew Glucina, dived into the longdrop with her; taking out a nasty defamation action against her rival at the Star Times, Bridget Saunders. Saunders had received an anonymous letter containing an abusive photomontage of her. She told some friends she thought the author was Drew Glucina. It got back to Drew Glucina. An adult with an ounce of emotional intelligence might have contacted Saunders, sympathised, and disavowed the letter. Glucina Senior took Saunders to court.
At some point, you'd think that Currie might have realised this almost-literal-shitshow was not something his paper should be dragged into. But, wrote Phare:
But the payoff came on Sunday morning when, out and about in cafes, Currie saw brunchers from young women to middle-aged men, pick up the paper and turn first to the Spy pages.
"She was a huge asset for us, definitely responsible for lots of sales and good stories, many that didn't come under her byline but were provided by her."
Hey, I quite like a good gossip section (I also like Shayne Currie, although I expect he might not think so after reading this). When Andy Pickering inherited Spy along with Ricardo Simich after a kind of Gossip Idol run-off, the pair of them did a good job. They were witty, they turned up stories, they sometimes afflicted the powerful. On last night's show, Andy said that Currie's successor as HoS editor, Bryce Johns, had made it clear that "the days of Spy being particularly personal or too nasty were over".
Since Andy left, to be replaced by Pebbles Hooper, Spy has been has not been as good. The tidbits are dull, the writing is often clunky and the photopages seem to revolve largely around the Auckland National Party scene that is perhaps the key to all this. Dirty Politics revealed that Glucina's Diary was frequently just a channel for her political patrons, a mucky window on an establishment full of clambering aspirants.
So perhaps when the news swung around last week to the emotional-infant-in-chief, the Prime Minister, it was an accident waiting to happen. The circumstances in which Glucina was permitted to get her Amanda Bailey story are all about the relationships that preceded it.
You'd think that, given the subsequent uproar in his own newsroom, Currie might have trod carefully this week. Instead, the paper accepted an opinion column from Bob Jones. All you need to know is that Jones' column on "ponytailgate" began with a rape joke. Jones takes no payment for his columns; he writes solely for vanity. His writing is hackneyed and he is living proof that even age may not bring self-awareness. That column didn't need to happen, but it happened.
Which leaves us with another aspirant: Mike Hosking. Again, an adult in the building might have forestalled Hosking's vile, victim-blaming attack on Bailey on Seven Sharp last week; might have saved him, and his poor colleagues, from himself and his own screaming lack of self-awareness.
But Hosking is a presenter at TVNZ, which makes him akin to a god. No one will tell him he's a monster, so it is left to a former colleague to bluntly do so.
Perhaps there are no more adults left left in Auckland's executive class. Perhaps it's simply now about the desire for status in this prevailing establishment. But you would hope that somewhere, some time, a grown-up will arrive home.
Hey, the rest of Media Take – featuring Hone Harawira, Stephen Winternet and Gerard Smyth, was pretty cool too. You can watch the whole thing here.