Change at Scene’ but no messing with the paper’s mojo

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Don’t change a thing. It’s great.” 

Thanks for that Rojo, whoever you are – though as one wit once remarked, change is life’s only constant. 

Rojo’s flattering short but sharp assessment of Mountain Scene was posted online last week. It came hot on the heels of the announcement this newspaper and its associated website had been sold by local owner Barry Thomas to Dunedin-based Allied Press, the publishers of the Otago Daily Times

I could only imagine the mood back in the office here in Queens­town – at the time I was across the ditch in Melbourne on holiday. 

Prior to the sale news breaking, Mountain Scene publisher Richard Thomas rang to fill me in and told me the ODT editor Murray Kirkness was keen to talk asap. 

Knowing Murray fairly well and liking him a lot, I knew it’d be just to say a friendly hello as a courtesy. I told Richard if it was just that – pleasantries and reassurance – not to bother racking up an international toll bill. 

However, I added if Allied Press wanted to change my job title before I got back on Monday, then yeah, I suppose I’d best take Murray’s call. 

Rich responded that it was good to see I still had a sense of humour. Trouble is, I wasn’t joking. 

A change of ownership like this is always a bit unsettling for everyone, no matter who’s buying. 

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the fact Mountain Scene has been owned not by a bigger company but just independently by Bazza. It’s cooler. 

Plus Barry’s never tried to get involved with decisions made editorially. In fact the only thing he’s ever told me to do is cut my hair. 

According to Murray, Allied’s owners the Smith family are cut from a similar cloth when it comes to independent editorial policy. 

And so far the noises coming out of the mouths of the big cheeses at Allied Press have been good ones. 

Allied managing director Sir Julian Smith told the ODT last week: “We intend that Mountain Scene will continue to retain the identity with which it has become known.” 

Equally reassuring was Smith’s apparent nod to Mountain Scene’s feisty and fearless reputation when he wandered into the office last week and declared: “Well, the first thing we’re going to have to do is double our liable insurance.” 

I couldn’t have agreed more when I saw Mountain Scene’s long-serving and indefatigable chief news hound Philip ‘Scoop’ Chandler comment to TV3 regarding the paper’s hard edge and quirky style: “That’s been what they wanted to buy, and why would they want that diluted? Why would you want to change that?” 

At the end of the day, it’d be naive to assume ownership doesn’t have an effect on company culture and approach, but it’s only part of the equation. 

A newspaper’s mojo is informed by so much more – partly the atmosphere and population of the town it exists in but also the attitude and energy of its staff. 

As I’ve said before, Mountain Scene’s a bold, colourful and quirky paper because you’re a bold, colourful and quirky lot. 

As of tomorrow, at Mountain Scene it’s goodbye Barry Thomas who has had a proud 40-year association with the company he founded – and hello Allied Press. 

What won’t be changing any time soon is Mountain Scene’s catchcry – the free voice of Queenstown.