Warwick Roger remembered as ‘loyal’ and ‘bold’ by former colleagues and friends

With his place in New Zealand’s magazine industry hall of fame firmly cemented, former colleagues and friends look back at the pioneering Warwick Roger, who died this week aged 72.

Roger was the founding editor of Metro in 1981 at a time when New Zealand’s magazine industry was dominated by publications launched in the 1930s.

Trudy Dickinson, now an insights manager and advertising sales manager at ICG Media, remembers just how different the magazine landscape was in the early 1980s.

At the time, New Zealand’s mass market magazine scene was largely limited to the Government-owned NZ Listener, the New Zealand Newspapers-owned NZ Woman’s Weekly and The Reader’s Digest. As a young media planner and woman, Dickinson felt Metro’s impact was akin to Radio Hauraki’s impact to the generation before.

“[It was] a two-fingered salute to the status quo. Warwick Roger and his backers helped Aucklanders define themselves as something different to the rest of New Zealand.”

Dickinson remembers how Metro completely shook up the game, for readers and advertisers. Timing-wise, Metro’s entry into the market could not have been better, and it was attractive to advertising agencies whose staff lived – or aspired to live – the life featured in Metro. The deadlines were shorter than the established magazines, meaning advertisers could launch tactical responses.

“Each new issue was eagerly anticipated amongst my cohort, not just for the long-copy stories and the glossy advertisements, but the black and white social pages and the spiky fun of Felicity Ferret.

“As publishes the Metro team were nimble and daring, forcing the established magazines to loosen their corsets and evolve. In my view, media, not just magazines in New Zealand are better for Warwick Roger’s work and for that I am grateful.”

Current Metro editor Susannah Walker never worked with Roger but feels she owes her job to him.

“As Metro’s founding editor in 1981, Warwick created a city magazine which perfectly captured the bold, brash mood of the times. It’s striking, looking at his early issues, how much they have in common with the Metro of today. Warwick was a visionary editor. He will always be part of the magazine’s DNA.”

Long-time publisher and Anthem executive director Vincent Heeringa started his career as a journalist at Metro in 1992, where he worked until 1996.

Heeringa remembers two sides to Warwick Roger. 

“In person he could be moody and short. During working hours he’d stay in his office and occasionally call out ‘Heeringa!’, summoning me to his desk like a school kid. He’d hand over copy covered with red pen and give it a mark out of ten (we’d both been teachers). ‘Try harder’, it usually said.”

He remembers Roger’s acerbic wit and his great delight in the long list of people he had either offended or been offended by. One particular story stands out to Heeringa as summing up Roger’s feelings. 

“I remember he once told us that he walked past someone on Cheltenham Beach. ‘Fuck you, Warwick,’ she’d said. ‘Fuck you, Jenny,’ he’d replied and they kept walking. ‘God, I love Devonport,’ he sniggered later.”

But Heeringa also remembers the other side to Roger. The one who selected Heeringa as the Young Writer of the Year in 1991 and was a genuine mentor. Roger wrote a long and effusive letter, praising Heeringa’s writing as warm, human and excellent. It was a letter that he still treasures and describes as the ‘letter of a lifetime’. Later, when he went to collect his prize, Roger offered to publish more of his work. A year later, he gave him his first job. 

“Together with the patient Nicola Legat, he taught me how to interview, how to research and how to write: ‘Stop interviewing the zookeepers and talk to the giraffes’; ‘Verbs Heeringa! Verbs! Do you know what they are?; ‘I don’t want to know what you think, I want to know what he actually said’. These maxims stayed with me and I was better for it.”

Even in times of difficulty, Roger was a natural leader. Roger left Metro in 1994 after the Toni McRae deformation suit cost the magazine $100,000. Heeringa says Roger remained loyal and cheerful throughout that ‘horrendous’ time.

“He trusted us, backed us and encouraged us. On a sunny afternoon, he’d wander into the office and say, ‘get out of here, go home, discover something’. He was unafraid and intolerant of the wrong things, like pomposity and greed, and championed the right things, like the Auckland arts scene, world-leading science at Auckland University, or onion growers from Pukekohe.

“He was irascible about Auckland not because he hated it. He loved it, as he did rugby, writing, athletics, poetry, journalism, Robyn and his kids. Auckland was better for it. So long, Warwick. You’re the boss.”

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