Every time I’ve talked with Dykzeul, he’s been extremely upbeat about working in the media. The numbers don’t lie, of course, and there are plenty of challenges facing the magazine industry, although Bauer has done well by investing in research capabilities and targeting TV advertisers to show how much more efficient advertising in magazines can be. But one of his ambitions is to get more media executives together to talk about the positives of working in this business.
He thinks there's a real lack of passion among media executives, and, just like the modern agency, a lack of characters.
"People in the media should, in my opinion, hold our heads a bit higher. We should be more proud of what we do than we are. We're a bit apologetic. The Rupert Murdoch thing has affected us all a bit. But we do play a critical role in society.”
Many argue that media can also play a damaging role in society. Fearmongering, sensationalist news coverage, celebrity worship, body image issues, privacy violations from the paparazzi (Dan and Honor Carter recently complained after photos of their son Marco appeared in Woman’s Day). And many believe the sugar rush of big sales—or, in the online realm, lots of clicks—eventually leads to more of the same. It’s a difficult balance, because it's obviously content that a lot of people enjoy. And, as Fairfax’s Simon Tong believes, it is possible to have a mix of light and shade. But too much of the fluff can harm a news brand. And the perception of the media is, in general, already one of distrust.
Rupert, a play about the rise of Rupert Murdoch that included characters Dykzeul had actually worked with in the past, showed a newspaper man who gave the people exactly what they wanted—tabloid fodder—and didn’t tend to let the truth get in the way of a good story. And this, Dykzeul says, is what media barons have always done well.
“They might not be the slightest bit interested in it, but they know exactly what it is the audience wants ... The Romans started graffiti [and, according to MediaWatch, olive oil companies even sponsored gladiators, so that impulse has been around for a while too]. People want to delve into other people's lives. It's a bit of voyeurism and escapism. To have some self-righteous prick sitting there saying Woman's Day is a pile of shit, for them, maybe it is, but there are hundreds of thousands of women out there who really enjoy reading those kinds of magazines … I really believe, passionately, that it doesn't matter what you read as long as you're reading something. Don't be judgmental about what other people are reading ... Why do people read Lucky Break? You look at it, and you may raise an eyebrow, but every single week 19,000 people go out and buy a copy. Why do we need to be judgmental about that? If someone wants to sit and watch Dancing With The Stars and that helps them relax and enjoy the evening, fine. I wouldn't but that doesn't mean you shouldn't.”
He admits it has probably gone too far at times in the celebrity space, both in terms of mentioning advertisers in editorial and with some of the stories it has run.
“We have probably pushed the boat a bit too hard … We've implied that someone is on the verge of tears and in fact that's probably not the case. Someone's interviewed their typewriter.”
It's generally accepted that there's a degree of creative license and truth stretching at play in such titles. But he believes you can get punished for that.
“I think that's where the danger is. I genuinely in my heart of hearts believe that the minute someone says ‘oh Jesus’, that's the next time they go to the checkout and they go ‘do I really need this?'"
So does Dykzeul have a leg to stand on when he criticises the quality of newspapers or news on TV while at the same time publishing gossip and celebrity-focused magazines? Isn’t that slightly hypocritical?
“I think that it probably is.”
But he says it’s all about knowing what you are. TV news is not “the fountain of all knowledge” it purports to be, neither is it, as the mourners of Campbell Live seemed to believe, the last bastion of investigative journalism. And Woman’s Day is not The Spectator, which Dykzeul reads on his commute to Waiheke, despite the danger of being perceived as "a snobby prick".
“I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a business which is producing a magazine like Woman's Day or Woman's Weekly, Trade a Boat, The Listener and North & South. I'm extremely proud of it. In the same way that I'm extremely proud of the team at Property Press. It’s an extraordinary business and it does not produce one editorial page.”
TV networks can get away with running their serious news and current affairs alongside shows like, for example, Cats Make You Laugh Out Loud, which, given its success in Australia, will presumably end up here soon and is undoubtedly a looming sign of the apocalypse. Major magazine companies can too because there are a number of brands operating under one umbrella. But because mainstream news brands have been forced to look for scale online, he says they often find themselves being forced to run everything from serious stories to celebrity tweets under one masthead. And that can be damaging for credibility.
"I'm extremely competitive. The truth is I still look at the Herald every morning. I do. And I think the Weekend Herald is terrific … But I genuinely do wish that the newspapers had thought a bit harder about entering the free content space as quickly as they did. I think that every senior newspaper executive would acknowledge that that was something they wish they had thought a bit harder about as well. The truth is it's too late ... If I was the Herald, I would be working much, much harder at the weekend newspapers. I think we're going to see three-day a week newspapers. I think that would probably be a fairly brave move, but I think it probably would a reasonably sensible move. Then supplement the difference through the web space. I suspect that's probably where it will all wind up.”
Down south, the Allied Press-owned Oamaru Mail has recently done that and gone weekly (and free). And a number of papers overseas have also focused on their weekend editions.