It’s been a year since David Mackenzie bought Cambridge News, joining the ranks of independent publishers responsible for 80 newspapers across the country. Notoriously media-shy for someone who owns a newspaper, he reluctantly sat down with Claire Castle to talk about his career in the media, his lifelong love of newspapers and kissing the corporate world goodbye.
David Mackenzie grew up in the newspaper business. His dad, John, was a printer at the Nelson Evening Mail, and he got David his first after-school job cleaning the newspaper’s fleet of cars and dropping off bundles of papers to delivery kids and dairies. He was 16, and it wasn’t too long before he started wagging school to work at the paper. “The boys in the press room would whistle out and I’d hide behind the presses when dad would walk past,” he laughed. David carried on working at the Mail, independently owned at the time, rising up through the ranks over the years. The paper was then sold off to a corporate media company, which transferred David around the country in management roles as he climbed the corporate ladder, taking the reins at the Waikato Times as general manager in 2002. The corporate strings were pulled again, and he was deployed to Auckland to manage a stable of two Sunday papers. That was a full-on role, but David felt that he had missed out on something by not doing any tertiary study or working overseas. With the support of wife Rebecca, who he married in 2005, he set about doing both of those things. After he completed his postgraduate diploma in business, the couple moved to London where David got a job with eBay as a country manager for shopping.com – a price comparison website. It exposed him to the world of digital commerce and had a fabulous coffee machine, but he was missing the newspaper business. When David was tracked down in London and offered the chance to run the Bay of Plenty Times at the end of 2009, he and Rebecca called time on their OE and came home. As usual, David’s role was quickly expanded, and he found himself overseeing two daily papers and 10 community papers across the Bay of Plenty and Waikato regions.
In 2011, Rebecca and David were joined by son Daniel, with daughter Hannah coming along in 2014. And baby number three is on the way, due in July.
On the career front, the years had taken their toll on his enthusiasm for the corporate world, and David said he became disillusioned with their treatment of newspapers.
“The one-size-fits-all corporate model seems efficient, but I wasn’t convinced it was in the best interests of the readers and the communities the newspapers were serving,” he explained. At a time when he saw community papers using more syndicated content and having a diminished local focus, David found himself asking “if I owned this paper, would I do this?” The answer was increasingly “no, I wouldn’t.”
Seven years in that role was enough, and he decided to take time out to spend time with his family and on his mountain bike, contemplating his next move.
It wasn’t long before David’s heart was drawn back to newspapers, and he bought the Cambridge News. “I saw Cambridge as a vibrant and growing community, and I could see massive potential for the Cambridge News as a dedicated ‘hyper-local’ newspaper to serve the community,” he explained. Soon afterwards, David brought Steph Bell-Jenkins and Viv Posselt on board to add new voices to the paper, joining reporter Sophie Iremonger. “I also wanted to get a local editor, someone with a focus only on Cambridge and who could boost the content of the paper, making it the only truly local paper in town.” So, he hired me in September.
His next investment in the town will be employing an office person who can provide face-to-face service for the community. “People want a friendly face and somewhere they can come and actually talk to someone, not a call centre to ring,” he said. (Watch this space for more on that.)
All in all, it’s been quite a full-on year. Now, instead of debriefing in a boardroom somewhere, he debriefs with staff over a beer once the paper is out the door.
Because that’s a much better way to do things, he reckons.