Our trust in councils may be based on sawdust

Barbara Hardwidge in her sinking New Plymouth home.

After the Taranaki Daily News revealed a couple of New Plymouth homeowners have ended up with homes that have sunk disastrously, I had some questions for the New Plymouth District Council about its responsibilities.

This column was published in the TDN on May 19, 2022:

How do pieces of land unsuited to housing suddenly become the opposite?

That’s a central question in some startling cases of New Plymouth homeowners whose life investments appear to have been built on fairy dust.

One revealed by this newspaper at the weekend is a 30-year-old house in Mangorei Rd near Awanui St that apparently sits on an old sawdust heap. There are proverbs about things like that. Since then, another instance has emerged, the owner coming forward to give a similarly devastating account (although sawdust was not involved).

Journalist Helen Harvey’s investigation into the first case made a crucial revelation: some people working for New Plymouth District Council in 1990 changed their minds about the Mangorei Rd site’s suitability. “NPDC’s property file shows the site was deemed ‘poor ground’ in 1990,” wrote Harvey.

“On January 4, 1990, a council officer signed the Not Approved box. But on July 16, that ruling was crossed out and consent was given to build.” NPDC group manager community and customer services Teresa Turner explained that happened because the developer came back with an engineering design “suitable for ground conditions at the site”.

When you read something like that you have to wonder what they were teaching in engineering school late last century, especially in the light of the earthquake-strengthening misadventures the country has since endured.

And you could speculate about the state of the council’s records. The story later refers to an Earthquake Commission view about the Mangorei Rd section that’s based on aerial photos.

I’d be surprised if the original council opinion about “poor ground” was informed merely by aerials. In my six decades of council reporting I rarely came across anything so definitive that wasn’t backed by a detailed engineer’s report.

I grew up living down the road from that sawdust heap. I recall a helluva lot of sawdust (but no sawmill). It filled the head of a gully that conveyed a small unnamed stream seawards. According to a reference in council records, that tiny waterway was more of a swamp beneath the sawdust pit, a place that during the three decades until 1982 was also covered with material referred to as “ash and topsoil”.

In other words, fill. Hence “poor” ground.

Then someone apparently found a building approach so promising the council changed its mind. Unwisely, it seems, because the house is sinking (even though others nearby seem okay).

Yet, the council is denying responsibility, fearful of setting a precedent. Turner says the buyer should have got a LIM (land information memorandum). But how would that have helped? According to a councillor, a LIM done since makes no reference to “poor ground”. Which raises another question – how do we know about it, then?

There’s something unfortunate about the timing of this case in terms of trust in the council.
In the same newspaper, it paid for a full-page advertisement outlining why the Government mustn’t go ahead with its Three Waters Plan until it clarifies a lot of things.

One of those is the fundamental right local communities have to a say in the way basic services like water and sewerage are handled. NPDC says the majority of us is not going to allow such a major central takeover without more answers to questions surrounding the proposal.

The council’s right. We’re none of us happy about losing control over something NPDC assures us it has well in hand, the long-overdue refurbishing of water supplies, sewerage systems and stormwater drains.

Here’s what worries me, though. What is it the current council can claim to know and be able to do that was presumably missing from its predecessors, councils that let our services get into their current state?
I doubt it was lack of skill and knowledge on the part of employees; it was probably political reluctance to spend sufficient money, which can result in bigger rates rises. Infrastructure work can get behind.

We’re lucky to have a current mayor and councillors prepared to bite the bullet, raise rates as needed, and get this mess sorted…although some of us won’t feel so fortunate when rates bills (already pumped up by the Yarrow Stadium rebuild) arrive in the letter box.

And there is this question: given current revelations and NPDC’s stance, how much we can trust any council with anything really tricky. Especially something precedent-setting – like when houses that maybe should never have been consented start sinking and embarrassing everyone.

The council says it can live with embarrassment. Whose, I wonder.

….

Below is a copy of a report originally dated January 4, 1990, provided to me by national engineering company Tonkin & Taylor – with a note that “this is what the council knew from the start”. There is no clear indication of who wrote the report, but it was signed off by someone on that date as indicating approval to build was not granted; it warns of the site’s apparent unsuitability for building, with the words “Poor ground” given an exclamation mark.

Then the document is signed off for approval later that year, on July 16, by someone whose signature is unclear; the original hand-written note at the top is crossed out. That note reads: “A logistics paper is to be provided on the ground conditions (illegible word) and floor structure design and conditions provided as our records show a lot of fill is on this site.”

There is an instruction for the document to be circulated and then returned to “building”, presumably that building section at the council. When that was written is not clear.

A second image provided by T & T shows analysis of two bores put down there to check.

The logistics paper referred to here (in the crossed out section) may have been what came along in July 1990 and changed the council’s mind about granting consent for a house to go ahead on the site.

An important question remains at time of writing (here): Was the requested logistics paper produced and what did it say? Where is it now? If the council has a copy, it needs to be produced for publication.

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Hearing from an old friend

The cover photo of Flair and Loathing on the Front Page – taken in 1977 when the Duke of Edinburgh (right) and Queen Elizabeth did a walkabout in Auckland. By then I was working for the Auckland Star. Recently, I was reminded how I got there from Taranaki when someone important from my professional life made contact – after 55 years.

You gotta love this – the man who helped get my journalism career under way 55 years ago has been in touch.

He’s the fellah I shared the dinner table with at Hawera’s Central Hotel in 1967 and who agreed when I suggested he buy a display advert in the newspaper I worked for, the Taranaki Herald.

The effect was startling. It was the first display (big) advertisement ever sold in Hawera in the paper’s (then) 115-year history.

The boss in New Plymouth wrote me an ecstatic letter about the rarity of journalists and advertising staff working together. He later moved to Auckland to take over the whole newspaper group – and ensured I got a job at the Auckland Star.

Here’s the best bit, though. The man I’m talking about, Russell King, and I were spoiled by the great cooking at the hotel – and he went on to marry the cook.

He and Bev are still together, living in retirement in Papamoa. He says after a couple of years, he sold the septic tank enterprise he was keen to advertise and he and Bev later successfully started growing flowers as a business.

I’ve sent him a complementary copy of Flair and Loathing on the Front Page, the first part of my memoirs.

I was never happy when I later discovered the Herald sold only 105 copies in South Taranaki and he should have had his ad in the rival Daily News (Taranaki Newspapers Ltd’s other daily).

There’s been a bit of media interest in the memoirs (which you can buy as an e-book by emailing me at jimtuckermedia@gmail.com).

Media news-site The Spinoff did an excellent spread, written by one of my former journalism students, Chris Schultz: https://thespinoff.co.nz/…/new-zealands-godfather-of…

The Listener has given it a brief mention on its books page, and Kim Hill talked to me about my life as a journo for about an hour on the Playing Favourites segment of her Saturday Morning programme: Playing Favourites with veteran journalist Jim Tucker | RNZ – https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday

Last Saturday, a column I wrote for the Taranaki Daily News/Stuff examined the background behind writing memoirs: How an ordinary person tackles their memoirs | Stuff.co.nz – https://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/opinion

Buy the e-book by contacting me at: Jimtuckermedia@gmail.com

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Kim Hill interview on RadioNZ

The doyen of NZ radio spends an hour interviewing the godfather of journalism.

Kim Hill presents her Saturday morning show on Radio NZ. On April 16, 2022, she interviewed me and played some of my favourite songs.

Click here: https://www.rnz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=2018838424

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MEMOIRS – Story in The Spinoff

MEDIA  April 9, 2022

New Zealand’s godfather of journalism pens his biggest yarn

By Chris Schulz Senior writer

When finished, Jim Tucker’s memoirs will extend to three parts and 900 pages. Photo: Archi Banal

Jim Tucker wrote thousands of stories and trained hundreds of journalists. Now, he’s turning his attention to himself.

Last week, Jim Tucker received an email that set off his Spidey senses. At 75, the celebrated editor and journalist should be enjoying his retirement, but Tucker remains a committed industry figure, writing columns, spearheading training programmes and fighting for its future. Thanks to 25 years of teaching, many major media figures owe their careers to him. Some might call Tucker the godfather of print journalism in New Zealand.

The note got his attention. The New Plymouth District Council requested feedback on the future of Pukekura Park, the expansive garden lake that incorporates the Bowl of Brooklands, one of the country’s most picturesque concert venues. Tucker lives nearby and walks his brother’s dog there most days. “It’s the most treasured asset any city could have,” he says. “It’s beautiful.”

As he read further, Tucker — so famously wary that he thought his 2021 ONZM award might be fake news — started to believe something might be up. The note included a survey requesting feedback on the park’s 25-year plan. One option involves filling in parts of the moat surrounding the Bowl’s stage, the venue where Elton John, REM, Fleetwood Mac and many other musicians have performed, separated by water from the crowd.

Jim tuckerJim Tucker’s review of The Seekers concert at the Bowl of Brooklands. (Photo: Supplied)

Recently, Tucker noticed promoters had been covering that moat with temporary flooring to allow crowds to get closer to the stage. Tucker had a thought: was the council trying to shrink the moat to appease promoters and attract more concerts to the region? “I thought, ‘Shit! This is news!” says Tucker, a thought he’s had many, many times across his career.

He immediately headed down to the venue, measured out the moat, counted the numbers of geese living there, then drew up a plan of what he thought might be happening. Once he was done, he sent his findings to a reporter at The Daily News, his local paper where he appears as a regular columnist. That reporter, Tucker says, is working on the story. (When contacted, a council spokesperson called the plans “early thinking … draft ideas. It’s still very early days.”)

It’s the kind of boots-on-the-ground reporting that cemented Tucker’s reputation across decades of newspaper reporting and editing, first at the Taranaki Herald, then the Auckland Star, eventually setting up the Sunday Star, the widely-read weekend paper now known as the Sunday Star-Times. After a stint at Woman’s Weekly, Tucker took his experiences and began passing them on to students across various tutoring stints. An estimated 1500 journalists trained under his careful eye.

Jim TuckerJim Tucker says he still loves journalism, despite the setbacks the industry faces. Image: Supplied

It’s the same eye that helped him score his first scoop. In 1965, after a full day at work as a cadet at the Taranaki Herald, an 18-year-old Tucker headed off to an evening meeting of the Taranaki Caving Club. There, he discovered a recent expedition had uncovered rare moa bones. He ran back to the newsroom, wrote up the story and after some tweaking, it made the next day’s front page. “Away it went around the world,” says Tucker. “That moment, I fell in love with my job.”

These days, journalism has become a job that’s increasingly hard to love. Thanks to the internet, far less advertising revenue is available to help fund news gathering, meaning fewer publications and journalists. A recent estimate puts the number working in New Zealand at under 1000. Training options are scarce. Those courses that remain “don’t teach you shorthand, they don’t teach you court [reporting],” laments Tucker. “It worries the shit out of me.”

In shredded newsrooms, journalists don’t have time to scour lengthy council documents or attend the Taranaki Caving Club’s annual meetings. As a result, stories get missed, crucial training for young reporters is skipped, and Tucker believes Aotearoa is worse off.

He points to his local council’s public relations department and says they’re free to push “really lightweight stories about what they want the ratepayers to know” instead of being held to account by experienced reporters. (A council rep denies this, saying it has one media advisor and six marketing communication advisors, two of whom studied journalism under Tucker.)

It saddens him. But, from his New Plymouth home that he shares with his wife Lin, Tucker can’t stop, and won’t stop, fighting the good fight. “The tenets have not changed,” he says. “Yes, we face online pressures and deadlines every half hour and live coverage on websites, but nothing has actually changed in terms of the basics.”

That’s how he spotted the potential stage changes at Bowl of Brooklands. “Journalists should be looking at every sentence of those reports and that’s the gold that you find.”

Tucker has decided to do something about it. After a career spent shaping the industry, writing thousands of stories, editing the country’s biggest publications and training many of the journalists still employed today, he’s turned his attention on himself, and he’s found his biggest yarn yet.

For the past four years, Tucker’s been writing his memoirs. Released earlier this week, part one of Flair and Loathing on the Front Page is a wild ride through New Zealand newsrooms across the 60s and 70s, when PR reps weren’t to be trusted, and publishing swear words like “stuffed” was a no-no. Reporters would argue, yell, drink at their desks, hammer out stories on noisy typewriters and smoke so much ceilings would be stained with nicotine.

Jim TuckerEditors ruthlessly tore up copy they deemed unworthy of being published. Tucker recounts the first time that happened to him, he cried in the toilets. It didn’t happen again.

Jim Tucker wrote the handbook used to train journalists around New Zealand.

Tucker is writing about this now because no one else is doing it. “My colleagues are starting to die, and their knowledge … is going with them,” says Tucker. “[I realised] all this stuff that we went through was all going to go.” He admits his ego has something to do with it too. “I thought I’d had a fairly interesting career, and that would be entertaining.”

It is. Impeccably written, resourced and annotated, Tucker’s recount of his early reporting days is compelling. He always told his students to start with short, sharp sentences to hook readers in, and introduce violence, or a murder, as soon as possible. He demonstrates the method in his book, kicking off with his reporting on the shooting of Inglewood High School principal Alexander Stuart Black by a 15-year-old student in 1968. A little later, he’s so eager to cover his first murder scene he nearly trips over the body.

Tucker’s memoirs encounter many famous Aotearoa faces. At one point, he encourages the comedian Billy T James to write jokes for one of his papers, enjoying their weekly phone calls to transcribe his gags. He hires future reality TV boss Julie Christie as a sub at the Auckland Star when she picks up a phone and begins transcribing copy during her job interview. When Tucker becomes a media commentator on Paul Holmes’ top-rating Newstalk ZB show, he hates it so much he quits.

Jim TuckerHe also chides himself for mistakes made along the way, detailing spats and rifts between journalists and editors, some that seem to stand to this day. He also covers his errors in detail, like the time the Auckland Star published a grim photo of children’s gumboots lined up on a doorstep after their deaths. A photographer had arranged the gumboots for the shot, sparking outrage and a flurry of subscription cancellations.

Some of Jim Tucker’s many accomplishments hang on the wall of his New Plymouth home. (Photo: Supplied)

His biggest regret involves the recruitment of a young Osa Kightley as a journalist. Tucker advised the young reporter to change his name to “Oscar”. The name’s stuck, and Osa, who didn’t last as a reporter but has become one of Aotearoa TV and film’s most familiar faces, hasn’t changed it back. Tucker calls it a “telling sign of the dire state of the average New Zealander’s grasp of diversity in those days”. He also calls it “a travesty”.

Why did he include so many of his failings when he could easily have edited them out? “Self-deprecation is one of the golden rules with [memoirs],” says Tucker. “You’ve got to take the piss out of yourself.”

Tucker’s influence can still be felt in newsrooms across the country. He can’t open a newspaper, read a magazine or watch the TV news without seeing the name of someone who’s passed through one of his training courses. “The editor in chief of the NZ Herald, Shayne Currie, is one of mine,” Tucker says. “Karyn Scherer, the editor of The Listener, is one of mine. The editor of The Press, up until recently, is one of mine.” He sounds proud. He should be.

The extent of his influence is on show at The Spinoff too. Tucker asks me to say hi to one of the website’s senior editors for him. She’s a former student, and he calls her “magnificent”. Then he turns his attention to me, asking if I’ll contribute to an updated journalism handbook he’s working on. “You bloody well will after this, boy,” he laughs, suggesting I owe him one after this interview.

Of course I will, because I do owe him one. In 2000, having been rejected from journalism training courses in Auckland and Wellington, I finally found someone who would accept me.

At New Plymouth’s Western Institute of Technology, Tucker honed me and 18 other rough and ready students with big dreams of becoming hard-hitting journalists. He taught us all the techniques and skills that had been drummed into him by his editors over the years.

It stuck. Twenty years later, I can still feel Tucker looking over my shoulder, and hear his voice, every time I write a story. What’s he saying? “This intro’s not good enough,” “This sentence needs to be cut,” and, “You mean ‘more than’, not ‘over’”. “Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings,” he’d tell us, deleting entire paragraphs we’d spent hours carefully arranging.

Using Tucker’s teachings to write about the man who taught them to me is a terrifying proposition. I can imagine him reading this story, peering over his glasses, hovering over his keyboard, tutting as his two typing fingers prepare to make many corrections.

Maybe he’s too busy for that. Now that Tucker’s working on his biggest story yet, he can’t stop. He’s got parts two and three of what will end up being a 900-page memoir to finish. He’s also writing another journalism industry guidebook, has just joined a sub-committee examining the future of journalism training, and is an assessor for applications for the Public Interest Journalism Fund.

His eyesight might be fading, meaning he has to triple-check every word, but he’s enjoying his writing more than ever. “We are seen as shit-stirrers, but I’ve never worried about that because I think the job’s so bloody interesting. We can do so much good,” he tells me. “I’m like a kid in the bloody sandpit again. I’m having a great old time.”

Flair and Loathing on the Front Page part one, $25, is available through jimtuckermedia.com.

This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our members. If you value what we do and believe in the importance of independent and freely accessible journalism – tautoko mai, donate today.

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My memoirs, Part 1, now available

This is Part 1 of my memoirs. Go to the BOOKS page for more details.

This is an e-book covering four decades, beginning with New Zealand journalist Jim Tucker’s early life in Taranaki and traversing through to 1987, when he had become editor of the country’s second largest daily newspaper.

It’s a 283-page read, comprising 111,000 words and 375 images (photos – many of them from Rob Tucker – cartoons, drawings, maps) that relate Tucker’s progress from winning the high school English prize to starting a new newspaper, the Sunday Star (now Sunday Star-Times) in 1986.

In 2022, he was invested as an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit for services to journalism.

For a payment of $NZ25, you can buy and download a copy of this book to read on your phone, tablet, iPad, laptop or PC.

Go to the BOOKS page of this website for details or simply email me at:

jimtuckermedia@gmail.com

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Is PM Ardern our Winston Churchill?

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Image Robert Kitchin/Stuff

Popular British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill was ousted after steering his country to a victory in World War II – because his people were sick of war.

Will the same thing happen to NZ PM Jacinda Ardern because we’re sick of the pandemic? It might. There’s no guarantee Ardern’s high rating overseas as a leader who really cares for her country’s aged and vulnerable will be rewarded by their votes when Kiwis go to the polls next year.

But who knows? There are a lot of Covid politics to go before then.

Jim Tucker’s opinion, Stuff/Taranaki Daily News, March 19, 2022: https://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/opinion/300542270/the-role-gratitude-could-play-in-the-2023-general-election

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Why reunions are a good idea still

New Plymouth Boys’ High School prefects in 1964. Jim Tucker is seated, second from left – only one with his eyes closed.

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Good journo beneath mild-mannered man

Mike Watson – the reporter behind that welcoming smile
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Big seas off New Plymouth driven by Cyclone Dovi

One of the aftermaths of Cyclone Dovi after it passed over Taranaki on Sunday, February 13, 2022, were huge seas that broke in spectacular fashion along New Plymouth’s coastline.

Here’s some photos I took of the 5m surf as it pounded the Port Taranaki main breakwater and the reef off Kawaroa Park. The sheltering seagulls shot was taken near East End Reserve looking beyond to Fitzroy Beach.

The end of the Port Taranaki main breakwater.
Remnants of Cyclone Dovi darken the sky over the port.
A tugboat waits offshore from the port to escape the wave surges.
Seagulls shelter at East End. Fitzroy Beach has a big surf in the background.
Big seas hit the reef off Kawaroa Park.
A couple basks in sunshine to watch the waves off Kawaroa.
Another whopper wave smacks into the breakwater. The wave on the inside surges towards the harbour.
An innocent-looking sky off the New Plymouth coast as a strong sou’ easter pounds the city on a Sunday afternoon.
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The short and long of getting a gong

In case you’re wondering, although probably you’re not, getting a gong is a process that in itself has as many twists and turns as the lifetime it recognises.
For a start, you have no idea who put you up for it, and there’s no way to find out without potentially embarrassing likely suspects.
There was another initial conundrum in my case: I thought it was a hoax.
An email that first arrived on November 1 to ask if I would accept appointment as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to journalism purported to be from Parliament’s Honours Unit, and it certainly looked official.
However, I was in the middle of dealing with nasty aftermath to a column about the anti-vaxxer brigade, including the creation of a false Jim Tucker Facebook page. Was this more mischief?
The email had the name and phone number of an official in the honours unit, so I rang. He was taken aback, but understood (I think) when I explained my uncertainty. No, this is for real, he said.
I hung up and started to feel excited. Lin whooped (gracefully, of course). We weren’t allowed to tell anyone, so that’s as far as it went – a mixture of surprise and delight, shared by two. Neighbours might have heard the sounds of animation, but no details.
I was surprised because I’ve never entertained the idea for a second that those in power would want to acknowledge, let alone reward, a constant, sharp critic of their goings on, someone who’s been harping on about them for more than a half century.
My upcoming memoirs are entitled “Flair and loathing on the front page”, the “loathing” a reference to the scepticism and outrage I’ve sometimes felt at the behaviour of some – but not all – politicians I’ve observed over the years since I began in journalism in 1965.
Our delight, though, was a much stronger reaction.
Delight not for myself but for journalism, and for an army of practitioners of this oft-reviled occupation who have shown spirit and courage and resourcefulness and, yes, absolute flair in the face of public and political diffidence.
Not many gongs are given to journos. In my time, I can recall the only knight being NZ Herald rugby writer Sir Terry McLean, with lesser medals going to photographer Peter Bush, Metro editor Warwick Roger, NZ Woman’s Weekly editor Jean Wishart, Pat Booth, Geoff Chapple, Dr Gavin Ellis, Lance Girling-Butcher and, a year ago, Jim Tully.
There may have been a few others I’ve forgotten. Some might have turned it down, given the pressure on journalists to at least appear to be independent of governments.
I had a similar view, if I’m honest – that being recognised by a regime of any hue carried the risk of being labelled something I have always tried to avoid.
Nothing gave me greater pleasure than having readers of my column variously accuse me of being left or right. That was a measure of success.
However, when it came to that unexpected moment when the offer arrived I didn’t hesitate for long. Yes, I was flattered. Few can claim to have no ego whatsoever.
But more crucial is the official recognition that the people willing to go to the back of the cave to check out the origin of the bad smell do indeed have a value to society, no matter how unwelcome is the news they bring back.
The process of being gonged is still revealing itself to us.
After saying yes, I was sent some forms to fill in, one of which included the citation written by whoever put me up for it. Was it accurate, I was asked.
Being someone who never reads instructions properly, I rewrote the biographical notes into a detailed essay of several thousand words, to which I attached the long version of my CV.
A polite reply came back: sorry, Mr T, but we want only 200 words.
Right. That done, a long silence followed. I started to wonder again. Lin said for goodness’ sake be patient.
Then, two letters came, one from Governor-General Cindy Kiro, the other from PM Jacinda Ardern.
On Xmas week I got calls from the media, in advance for the preparation of coverage for announcement day, 5am on December 31.
Many thanks for the kind notes.
The challenge now is to find something to wear to the pinning on. I haven’t worn a suit since 1987.

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Tricky road to a new driver’s licence

I just got my driver’s licence renewed, but it wasn’t easy.
That was my fault…entirely. Instead of doing what a lifetime of journalism taught me – proper research – I listened to what others said. Bloody nightmare, was the consensus.
The problem is we’re all different at that moment when society rightly demands to know whether advancing age has made us a menace on the roads.
There’s a lot of potential impediments to driving when you’ve got kilometres on the clock – fading eyesight, wobbly heart, diabetes, arthritis, strokes, dementia, et al.
I could have found all that out by consulting the NZ Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) website, which has a plain and simple rundown. But no. I preferred to consult friends my age.
One in particular had a helluva time. A retired bus driver who’d driven safely all his life, he was declined by his GP for medical reasons, and failed both the road code and practical driving tests. He missed the driving one for going too slow on the open road.
After hearing all that (he got there in the end) I was more than a bit worried my driving days were about to end this coming February 15, after 60 years without an accident and only one recent speed camera fine for letting our overly lively little car hit 58 in a city street.
I started the process by going on the Automobile Association website and attempting the road code test. What a shock – I scored 21 from 35 (a pass is 33).
I bought the 20-question pack ($20) and after four goes got my score up to 30.
It’s an ingenious and useful refresher. Each new test repeats the ones you got wrong last time and after each attempt you start to absorb such obscure rules as how much your trailer can weigh with a load and what’s signified by a yellow cat’s eye.
There’s also a blue car whose options in a variety of traffic situations must be correctly chosen from four or five suggested answers. If you get it wrong, the correct answer comes up, too.
The next step was a trip to the GP for a medical. Our med centre has a specialist who puts you through basic tests like eyesight, diabetes and dementia (my score was 30/30, so that was reassuring).
That was followed by a thorough going-over from the doctor. She said I was fine to drive, filled out an elaborate form and signed me off.
Next stop was the Automobile Association office in central New Plymouth, where my first move was to pick up a frighteningly thick copy of the NZ Road Code and get in a deceptively short queue.
The cramped and busy office has two queues for licences and one for “other”, attended on the day I went by three extraordinarily patient and skilful women (with a backup to support them).
Each member of the public in the queues seemed to have a different version of getting a licence or some kind of transport issue that needed sorting out, and each took a long time.
The women were not only helping people fill out forms, but also checking their credentials and sitting them down to take headshot photos, each time with advice that “it’s okay to smile “ (in contrast to that familiar passport photo edict to play it sombre).
Even though I stood at the head of my queue for what seemed like half an hour, the system was complicated by people returning from having filled out their forms and thinking it was okay to jump to the front.
I was tempted to say something to one guy, but he stood at least seven feet tall and looked determined to brook no objections, especially from a pensioner.
In the end, the woman at “other” had no takers, so came around to ask me what I was after. Her response changed my life.
When she saw the medical certificate from the doctor, she told me to return the road code to the book stand: “You won’t be needing that. You won’t be doing any tests. We can issue your licence now.”
No road test? Nup. Your doctor says you’re fine to drive for the next five years. We’ll issue a temporary licence until the agency sends out your new one.
My blood pressure – which had been up a bit at the doctor’s – returned to normal. As did my life.

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Reunion NPBHS 1964 – contacts needed

Prefects at NPBHS in 1964.

Former New Plymouth Boys High School pupil from the early 1960s, Michael Rich, seeks contact details of former colleagues from his final year, 1964.

The photograph above shows prefects, but Michael is keen for anyone from that year to gather at some time in the middle of next year (Covid-depending, of course).

His email address in Sydney is: mikekarenrich@gmail.com

Failing that, email me at: jimtuckermedia@gmail.com

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Selfish anti-vaxxers won’t be missed

The anti-vaccination lobby is getting in the way of general public safety.

It probably won’t get any kind of result, but a week or so back I made a complaint to that great faceless behemoth, Facebook, my first.

I reported an anti-vaxer. I got sick of a constant stream of messages from this person, each laden with emotive prose about the grave risk of getting the jab, “backed up” by strings of website links that supposedly supported her argument.

I told FB I not only didn’t want to hear from her again, but they should take a look at her activities, which seemed to breach the social media company’s rules about…well, something.

There’s been no news back, and I haven’t inquired. The block I put on Ms Anti-vaxer seems to be holding. I’m hoping she’s given up on me and is pestering somebody else.

You’ll have worked out where I stand on Covid-19 vaccination. Lin and I – and every other person we know – have had both jabs.

In case you’re wondering, we approached it with caution. We’re old enough to remember the thalidomide disaster, to recall as kids getting injections against polio (and knowing other kids who caught it), measles, diphtheria, whooping cough and other once-rampant afflictions that swept society periodically last century.

I was a medical reporter and columnist back in my Auckland Star days in the 1970s, and for three years from 2010 I spent two or three hours a day writing a blog about prostate cancer, my project being labelled one of the world’s best lay information sources by the Harvard Medical Library.

So I believe I know how to research medical stuff. And my reading (and Lin’s) supported the idea of getting the Pfizer vaccine as soon as it was available.

In case you’re wondering, the first prick had no noticeable impact, but the second last month left us both feeling a bit crook (strong Kiwi medical term) for a week.

Things in the world of vaccination development and application have moved on a lot, to say the least. Our study of how Covid vaccines were developed so rapidly convinced us the risks were no greater than they have ever been when it comes to applying medical treatment on a broad scale.

Someone, somewhere, will have a bad experience. Bad enough to kill them. But the chances are so remote as to place the risk factor below those generally in play every time we get out of bed in the morning.

My anti-vaxer acquaintance may have given up on me, but you can bet she’ll still be spreading her earnest message to others.

People like that never give up, because to do so is to concede a wrong turn somewhere, the weakening of a leap of faith that if questioned would bring their philosophy on human existence out into the glare of reason.

Those words are too grand to describe why some people are like that. In fact, they’re simply dumb. They’re as easily persuaded as religious fanatics, and greatly reinforced by endless opportunities offered by the internet to rotate within a silo of like-minded people.

If my language here is strong, then forgive me. I had a lot to do with the anti-vaccination brigade a decade or more back when I joined the Sunday Star-Times as acting chief reporter for a six-month stint.

I was first defence against anyone approaching the paper looking to pitch a story. Most came from public relations hacks, whose emails could be binned after a single glance at the first paragraph. But the anti-vaxers were different.

They mustered screeds of evidence to support their belief that not only does mass vaccination run counter to freedom of choice, but long-term risks from introducing any foreign substance to the body can never be predicted.

You can see how such vague but compelling arguments needed careful consideration, before – as invariably happened after I’d read the screeds, checked their origins, and compared them to my own research (in effect, lay person v lay person) – I would politely tell them to bugger off.

I don’t feel so polite these days. I’m with US columnist Leonard Pitts Jnr who writes of what’s happening there as the government introduces mandatory vaccination for its employees, like ours is now.

We’ll see the same whining here, the same complaints we saw when wearing a seat belt became mandatory last century, the laments about loss of freedom.

Goodbye, then. I don’t want you teaching my grandkids.

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Columns book is launched at hospice

Kevin Jordan appears in Random Thoughts in the section on Hospice Taranaki. We’re shown at the launch of the book held at the Westown, New Plymouth, hospice shop (which is selling the book).

My new book – Random Thoughts: Jim Tucker revisits favourite columns – was formally launched at the Hospice Taranaki shop in Westown, New Plymouth, on the evening of October 13.

A crowd of about 50 hospice supporters, New Plymouth District Councillors (including Deputy Mayor Richard Jordan and his wife, Anne) and friends of the author and wife, Lin, gathered at the shop at 5.30pm to hear speeches from hospice CEO Paul Lamb and me.

The occasion ended with book sales and signings. The book, proceeds from which go to Hospice Taranaki, went on sale the next day at the five Taranaki hospice shops.

There will be more book signings next week at the shops in Waitara, Waiwhakaiho Valley, Stratford and Hawera, and at Westown.

The book republishes about 40 of the 237 columns I wrote for the Taranaki Daily News/Stuff between 2016 and January this year. Each is illustrated and followed up to see if anything eventuated.

Printing of the book was paid for by Dr George Mason from his charitable fund. Many thanks, George.

Anyone wanting a copy can buy an e-book version on the BOOKS page of this website, or email me on jimtuckermedia@gmail.com (if you’re out of Taranaki) to order a printed copy, or buy from one of the shops or the hospice Trade Me account. The book is not on sale at any bookshop or through any book publisher (other than JimTuckerMedia).

Lin and Jim Tucker
Paul Lamb, CEO of Hospice Taranaki, at the Westown hospice shop.
Jessica Sinclair, hospice north group retail manager, with some of the items for sale at the Westown shop.
Dan’s daks – the first holes didn’t start appearing until after more than a decade of use.
A Rob Tucker photo of the Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth. The book has five columns about the centre’s controversial past, plus an interview with key founding donor John Matthews, who now feels things are coming right at the centre.
Ollie Tucker (left) and his Dad, Kirk Tucker, study a Len Lye exhibit.
Another Tucker – Granddad Harry, who migrated to Auckland in the early 1900s and founded the Tucker family in NZ. He’s shown here indulging in one of his retirement pastimes, model trains. Rob Tucker image.
A Jehovah’s Witness display at Pukekura Park. The column saying it shouldn’t be there drew the most widespread support of any of the 237 columns published over five years. They’re not seen in the park any more.
Should a Dad be allowed to build a treehouse in a public tree in Upper Victoria Rd? New Plymouth District Council tried to ignore it, but in the end asked him to take it down after someone complained. Most people were on the Dad’s side.

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Pukekura Park in Winter

Flowers emerge in Pukekura Park well before the end of winter.

Take a look at my third photo essay on New Plymouth’s renowned Pukekura Park, this time a two-parter assembled from a couple of thousand cellphone pix taken over the past couple of winters.

Winter Park (Parts 1 and 2, You Tube below) shows how nature changes everything in the park, but also how quickly the plants and trees regather themselves for spring. I’m taking spring shots now for the next essay.

Part 1: https://youtu.be/iXXrGWvQGtE

Part 2: https://youtu.be/GB1aQmipU5k

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Govt’s love of the aged is going to have a bad ending

While the NZ Government is showing due concern for the welfare of the country’s aged during the Covid pandemic, something has gone wrong with its funding for those vital end-of-life places about to be overrun by dying Baby Boomers.

Hospice Taranaki, for example, has seen its government funding drop from 70 percent a decade ago to 47 percent now.

My latest column (October 9, 2021) writes about this discrepancy in State care, as well as my latest book, whose proceeds will go towards helping our hospice survive.

READ IT here:

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Why we need to be wary about Govt’s three waters deal

Roadworks in Taranaki – not much progress. DN Photo

During this second term of the Labour-dominated government one thing that has become apparent is its quest to gain central control over more of the country’s basic functions.

We’ve got all the polytechnics now merged into a single administrative entity, the regional health boards are going to be reorganised into a small number of new mega-boards, and now there is a plan to take over what is being called the “Three Waters” – drinking water, sewerage and stormwater drainage.

The government is predicting large ratepayer savings with this plan, but now our many councils are questioning the numbers. The rest of us can only wonder if we’re going to get another version of the roads board system, which has left our main highways patchy and neglected.

Have a read on my thoughts about Three Waters in this recent column I wrote for the Taranaki Daily News and Stuff.

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How Covid locks down our cars

The pandemic has wrecked the global supply chains – including the one that gets car parts from Asia to New Zealand.

This column I wrote for the Taranaki Daily News in early September 2021 tells what the outcome can be. Expensive, in a word.

Our slightly dinged car. No parts to fix it because of Covid.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/opinion/300400330/how-covid-locks-down-our-cars

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How to drop a tree safely in a busy public park

Here’s what happened when three expert tree-cutters dealt to an old tree in New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park today.

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Grumpy old man returns – with mask

I’m back – sort of.

I wrote a column for the Taranaki Daily News today (August 21, 2021), coming out of retirement temporarily because of what I found when I went for a walk this week.

I can only conclude we’re in some trouble if the Delta variant of Covid-19 pops up here in Taranaki. Go to Stuff to have a read:

https://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/opinion/300387246/face-masks-and-short-humanoids-and-a-tale-of-mask-wearing-discovery

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Tributes to Rob Tucker – photo-journalist

My brother, Rob Tucker, has been a photo-journalist for 56 years. Last week, his work was recognised by New Plymouth District Council and the Taranaki Rugby Football Union.

See how in this video, and then watch the other one to see an extended radio interview done by one of Taranaki’s community stations:

Interview with Rob:

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Pukekura Park in AUTUMN

Jim Tucker’s latest photo essay on New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park, a collection of stills showing the park at its most colourful, when everything turns yellow and red.

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End of a 140-year-old life

A bunch of brave fellers lop the top off one of the last old pine trees at Pukekura Park in New Plymouth.

Once one of dozens, this 140-year-old specimen used to towered above the band rotunda at the bottom end of the park’s main lake. A small crowd waited for more than an hour as the tree-fellers removed the top part of the main trunk.

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MY WORK

Upcoming JimTuckerMedia books

This is a collection of some of my 237 weekly columns written for the Taranaki Daily News/Stuff between 2016 and 2021. The selected columns will have updates telling you what happened after they appeared and some amusing tales of what transpired when I was researching and writing them at the time.

The book will be dedicated to Hospice Taranaki and proceeds from sales will go to the hospice organisation. It will be on sale through their four Taranaki shops.

Watch out for it in the second half of 2021.

Now four years in the writing – too many interruptions and other books – my memoirs might well be out in time for Xmas 2021.

I’m into Part 3, a record of my 25 years as a journalism teacher, and about to write about our seven years in Wellington at the journalists training organisation and Whitireia polytechnic. Part 4 will be about the return to New Plymouth.

I’m interrupted again, of course – the columns collection above is the current focus.

Feedback on my last column

My final column on the editorial page of the Taranaki Daily News on January 9, 2021.

“You’ll be getting lots of good wishes just now, but here’s another set to add to your pile,” wrote author David Hill in an email.

“I’ve relished your columns greatly over the past few years – your balance, clarity, skills of structure and tone. You’ve been such an admirably mature voice on local issues, and you’ve also been that elusive thing, A Good Read, with narrative and register so neatly controlled.”

David was one of a few dozen well-wishers who got in touch. This attached document shows what they had to say. I thank them all for their kind words.

A few people suggested we publish a collection of some of the 239 columns that date back to 2016. That might work if I added background about how the columns came about in each case and what, if anything, eventuated.

Please tell me what you think.

————————————————————————————————————————–


Final word on my last words

This is my last column, a goodbye and thank you one, the 239th written for Taranaki Daily News/Stuff over the past five years from 2016.

WORD SHED: The tin hut where I write my stuff. December, 2020.

Closing column – January 9, 2021:

Wolfie – a Taranaki All Black

Journalist Jim Tucker in his New Plymouth writing shed. ANDY JACKSON/STUFF.

He was as famous as Jonah Lomu in his day. Neil Wolfe set the rugby world aflame when he first played for the ABs in 1960. If you want to know the full story, you’ll find it all in my newly published book – Wolfie: The life of an All Black.

To buy a copy ($60), email Raewyn Wolfe at: tnwolfebook@gmail.com

Stuff/Daily News column for December 3, 2020:

Newly minted – reading through a copy of Wolfie in the place where I wrote it. ANDY JACKSON/STUFF.
Wolfie’s team: From left: Todd Wolfe, Ian Snook (rugby chapters proof-reader), Lin Tucker (ancestry research/design), Sally Wolfe, Rosie Henderson (layout and design). PHOTO: Sandra Henderson

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MEMOIRS – Story in The Spinoff

MEDIA  April 9, 2022

New Zealand’s godfather of journalism pens his biggest yarn

By Chris Schulz Senior writer

When finished, Jim Tucker’s memoirs will extend to three parts and 900 pages. Photo: Archi Banal

Jim Tucker wrote thousands of stories and trained hundreds of journalists. Now, he’s turning his attention to himself.

Last week, Jim Tucker received an email that set off his Spidey senses. At 75, the celebrated editor and journalist should be enjoying his retirement, but Tucker remains a committed industry figure, writing columns, spearheading training programmes and fighting for its future. Thanks to 25 years of teaching, many major media figures owe their careers to him. Some might call Tucker the godfather of print journalism in New Zealand.

The note got his attention. The New Plymouth District Council requested feedback on the future of Pukekura Park, the expansive garden lake that incorporates the Bowl of Brooklands, one of the country’s most picturesque concert venues. Tucker lives nearby and walks his brother’s dog there most days. “It’s the most treasured asset any city could have,” he says. “It’s beautiful.”

As he read further, Tucker — so famously wary that he thought his 2021 ONZM award might be fake news — started to believe something might be up. The note included a survey requesting feedback on the park’s 25-year plan. One option involves filling in parts of the moat surrounding the Bowl’s stage, the venue where Elton John, REM, Fleetwood Mac and many other musicians have performed, separated by water from the crowd.

Jim tuckerJim Tucker’s review of The Seekers concert at the Bowl of Brooklands. (Photo: Supplied)

Recently, Tucker noticed promoters had been covering that moat with temporary flooring to allow crowds to get closer to the stage. Tucker had a thought: was the council trying to shrink the moat to appease promoters and attract more concerts to the region? “I thought, ‘Shit! This is news!” says Tucker, a thought he’s had many, many times across his career.

He immediately headed down to the venue, measured out the moat, counted the numbers of geese living there, then drew up a plan of what he thought might be happening. Once he was done, he sent his findings to a reporter at The Daily News, his local paper where he appears as a regular columnist. That reporter, Tucker says, is working on the story. (When contacted, a council spokesperson called the plans “early thinking … draft ideas. It’s still very early days.”)

It’s the kind of boots-on-the-ground reporting that cemented Tucker’s reputation across decades of newspaper reporting and editing, first at the Taranaki Herald, then the Auckland Star, eventually setting up the Sunday Star, the widely-read weekend paper now known as the Sunday Star-Times. After a stint at Woman’s Weekly, Tucker took his experiences and began passing them on to students across various tutoring stints. An estimated 1500 journalists trained under his careful eye.

Jim TuckerJim Tucker says he still loves journalism, despite the setbacks the industry faces. Image: Supplied

It’s the same eye that helped him score his first scoop. In 1965, after a full day at work as a cadet at the Taranaki Herald, an 18-year-old Tucker headed off to an evening meeting of the Taranaki Caving Club. There, he discovered a recent expedition had uncovered rare moa bones. He ran back to the newsroom, wrote up the story and after some tweaking, it made the next day’s front page. “Away it went around the world,” says Tucker. “That moment, I fell in love with my job.”

These days, journalism has become a job that’s increasingly hard to love. Thanks to the internet, far less advertising revenue is available to help fund news gathering, meaning fewer publications and journalists. A recent estimate puts the number working in New Zealand at under 1000. Training options are scarce. Those courses that remain “don’t teach you shorthand, they don’t teach you court [reporting],” laments Tucker. “It worries the shit out of me.”

In shredded newsrooms, journalists don’t have time to scour lengthy council documents or attend the Taranaki Caving Club’s annual meetings. As a result, stories get missed, crucial training for young reporters is skipped, and Tucker believes Aotearoa is worse off.

He points to his local council’s public relations department and says they’re free to push “really lightweight stories about what they want the ratepayers to know” instead of being held to account by experienced reporters. (A council rep denies this, saying it has one media advisor and six marketing communication advisors, two of whom studied journalism under Tucker.)

It saddens him. But, from his New Plymouth home that he shares with his wife Lin, Tucker can’t stop, and won’t stop, fighting the good fight. “The tenets have not changed,” he says. “Yes, we face online pressures and deadlines every half hour and live coverage on websites, but nothing has actually changed in terms of the basics.”

That’s how he spotted the potential stage changes at Bowl of Brooklands. “Journalists should be looking at every sentence of those reports and that’s the gold that you find.”

Tucker has decided to do something about it. After a career spent shaping the industry, writing thousands of stories, editing the country’s biggest publications and training many of the journalists still employed today, he’s turned his attention on himself, and he’s found his biggest yarn yet.

For the past four years, Tucker’s been writing his memoirs. Released earlier this week, part one of Flair and Loathing on the Front Page is a wild ride through New Zealand newsrooms across the 60s and 70s, when PR reps weren’t to be trusted, and publishing swear words like “stuffed” was a no-no. Reporters would argue, yell, drink at their desks, hammer out stories on noisy typewriters and smoke so much ceilings would be stained with nicotine.

Jim TuckerEditors ruthlessly tore up copy they deemed unworthy of being published. Tucker recounts the first time that happened to him, he cried in the toilets. It didn’t happen again.

Jim Tucker wrote the handbook used to train journalists around New Zealand.

Tucker is writing about this now because no one else is doing it. “My colleagues are starting to die, and their knowledge … is going with them,” says Tucker. “[I realised] all this stuff that we went through was all going to go.” He admits his ego has something to do with it too. “I thought I’d had a fairly interesting career, and that would be entertaining.”

It is. Impeccably written, resourced and annotated, Tucker’s recount of his early reporting days is compelling. He always told his students to start with short, sharp sentences to hook readers in, and introduce violence, or a murder, as soon as possible. He demonstrates the method in his book, kicking off with his reporting on the shooting of Inglewood High School principal Alexander Stuart Black by a 15-year-old student in 1968. A little later, he’s so eager to cover his first murder scene he nearly trips over the body.

Tucker’s memoirs encounter many famous Aotearoa faces. At one point, he encourages the comedian Billy T James to write jokes for one of his papers, enjoying their weekly phone calls to transcribe his gags. He hires future reality TV boss Julie Christie as a sub at the Auckland Star when she picks up a phone and begins transcribing copy during her job interview. When Tucker becomes a media commentator on Paul Holmes’ top-rating Newstalk ZB show, he hates it so much he quits.

Jim TuckerHe also chides himself for mistakes made along the way, detailing spats and rifts between journalists and editors, some that seem to stand to this day. He also covers his errors in detail, like the time the Auckland Star published a grim photo of children’s gumboots lined up on a doorstep after their deaths. A photographer had arranged the gumboots for the shot, sparking outrage and a flurry of subscription cancellations.

Some of Jim Tucker’s many accomplishments hang on the wall of his New Plymouth home. (Photo: Supplied)

His biggest regret involves the recruitment of a young Osa Kightley as a journalist. Tucker advised the young reporter to change his name to “Oscar”. The name’s stuck, and Osa, who didn’t last as a reporter but has become one of Aotearoa TV and film’s most familiar faces, hasn’t changed it back. Tucker calls it a “telling sign of the dire state of the average New Zealander’s grasp of diversity in those days”. He also calls it “a travesty”.

Why did he include so many of his failings when he could easily have edited them out? “Self-deprecation is one of the golden rules with [memoirs],” says Tucker. “You’ve got to take the piss out of yourself.”

Tucker’s influence can still be felt in newsrooms across the country. He can’t open a newspaper, read a magazine or watch the TV news without seeing the name of someone who’s passed through one of his training courses. “The editor in chief of the NZ Herald, Shayne Currie, is one of mine,” Tucker says. “Karyn Scherer, the editor of The Listener, is one of mine. The editor of The Press, up until recently, is one of mine.” He sounds proud. He should be.

The extent of his influence is on show at The Spinoff too. Tucker asks me to say hi to one of the website’s senior editors for him. She’s a former student, and he calls her “magnificent”. Then he turns his attention to me, asking if I’ll contribute to an updated journalism handbook he’s working on. “You bloody well will after this, boy,” he laughs, suggesting I owe him one after this interview.

Of course I will, because I do owe him one. In 2000, having been rejected from journalism training courses in Auckland and Wellington, I finally found someone who would accept me.

At New Plymouth’s Western Institute of Technology, Tucker honed me and 18 other rough and ready students with big dreams of becoming hard-hitting journalists. He taught us all the techniques and skills that had been drummed into him by his editors over the years.

It stuck. Twenty years later, I can still feel Tucker looking over my shoulder, and hear his voice, every time I write a story. What’s he saying? “This intro’s not good enough,” “This sentence needs to be cut,” and, “You mean ‘more than’, not ‘over’”. “Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings,” he’d tell us, deleting entire paragraphs we’d spent hours carefully arranging.

Using Tucker’s teachings to write about the man who taught them to me is a terrifying proposition. I can imagine him reading this story, peering over his glasses, hovering over his keyboard, tutting as his two typing fingers prepare to make many corrections.

Maybe he’s too busy for that. Now that Tucker’s working on his biggest story yet, he can’t stop. He’s got parts two and three of what will end up being a 900-page memoir to finish. He’s also writing another journalism industry guidebook, has just joined a sub-committee examining the future of journalism training, and is an assessor for applications for the Public Interest Journalism Fund.

His eyesight might be fading, meaning he has to triple-check every word, but he’s enjoying his writing more than ever. “We are seen as shit-stirrers, but I’ve never worried about that because I think the job’s so bloody interesting. We can do so much good,” he tells me. “I’m like a kid in the bloody sandpit again. I’m having a great old time.”

Flair and Loathing on the Front Page part one, $25, is available through jimtuckermedia.com.

This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our members. If you value what we do and believe in the importance of independent and freely accessible journalism – tautoko mai, donate today.

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Why school reunions are still a good idea

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