It amuses me and, to be honest, also peeves me off a little when the odd person assumes our editorial style softens when it comes to stories about a company like tourism giant Skyline Enterprises.
People assume this because Mountain Scene’s longstanding owner is Barry Thomas who has had a long association with locally-based Skyline. He was the latter’s highly-regarded chairman for a whopping 33 years.
The other thing some people like to assume is we go soft on Thomas – or that he somehow influences editorial decisions. Wrong, and wrong. (And even if he were inclined to, I doubt he’d have the time).
We’ve run plenty of stories that negate any suggestion we give him or any companies he’s associated with a soft ride.
I remember one yarn we ran in March, 2008, examining staff lay-offs and job downgrades at SkyCity Queenstown Casino, a company which Skyline has a 40 per cent stake in. At the time, Thomas was the SkyCity Queenstown chairman.
We quoted a disgruntled staffer, who felt it was “probably the worst-managed place I’ve ever worked”. Not exactly flattering.
I remember telling a slightly shell-shocked then-colleague to phone Thomas and grill him about the restructure and this slagging off of management. And she did so after I told her that no, I wasn’t joking. Thomas declined to comment and may have even hung up, from memory.
Since then, we’ve covered incidents of accidents and injuries involving Skyline’s luge operation and I even took the mickey out of Thomas in this column.
We also did a front-page story in 2009 detailing claims by then-new tourism player Ziptrek that Skyline deliberately felled a tree crucial to its flying fox network – effectively sabotage. Skyline bosses vehemently denied this, arguing any felling was in the interests of safety and the tree was identified by an arborist as a potential hazard to its gondola operation. Hardly the sort of story we’d pursue if we had some secret agenda to bolster Skyline’s reputation at every opportunity.
For another example, see the Opinion section on page 14 in this edition which features an online comment critical of Skyline.
You’ll also see in this edition on page five comments from a visitor in our ‘Two minutes with a tourist’ column gushing about how wonderful Skyline’s luge activity is. And I mean gushing – you couldn’t get a bigger luge fan than this guy.
And there’ll no doubt be people who’ll see this as some sort of effort on our part to promote a Skyline business – the simple fact is this luge-lover just happened to be the first person my colleague came across when he walked into a backpackers looking for a candidate for the column.
At the end of the day, it makes no difference to me or my decisions who owns the newspaper or the links they might have. That’s the way it should be and it’s as Thomas expects it – otherwise I’d have been history-burgers ages ago.
But despite all this, a perception remains in some quarters that we cut Skyline slack – an instance emerged just last week when veteran Mountain Scene chief news hound Philip ‘Scoop’ Chandler followed a tip-off and called the engineers at Milford Sound Flights to inquire about whether their co-owners Skyline and Real Journeys were making them all redundant – they were.
ONe of the engineers said he didn’t expect to hear from Mountain Scene given our association with Skyline.
News flash – we don’t have one. Mountain Scene is a completely separate business owned by Thomas as an individual.
And he’s never come in here and thrown his weight around to try to get something in – or out – of the paper. In fact, the only thing he’s ever told me to do is to get a haircut, a persistent request which I repeatedly and happily ignored until I think he just gave up.
In my experience he’s the best kind of newspaper owner – stays out of it until you do something that could cause a bit of a problem like, heaven forbid, a lawsuit.
That’s when he’ll step up to the plate to let you know he’s game for the scrap and will be there to back you 100 per cent.