Doug Golightly, long the best excuse for sleeping til the afternoon on a Saturday morning, has now extended his monumental dull-wittedness into some new media, being appointed editor of Sky Sport: The Magazine. Full disclosure: Until very recently I was a contributor to the publication, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. And just so people know it’s not sour grapes, I’ve had no communication with the new team, I just wouldn’t want my name anywhere near Golightly’s.
Sky Sport: The Magazine was created by Eric Young in 2007, it functioned as something like an Antipodean Sports Illustrated, running pieces at far greater length and depth than you’d see anywhere else in New Zealand sports journalism, and generally providng a counterpoint to the cloying, inarticulate blokeishness which permeates almost all coverage of sports in this country.
Features ran at anywhere up to 5,000 words or 14 pages, unheard of in New Zealand sports journalism, which tends to view any attempt to decode the romance or futility of sports as somehow antithetical. Young published Gary Smith’s incredible SI piece on Andre Agassi, following his retirement, which was written entirely in the second person. Writers like noted NZ playwright Greg McGee found a home in its pages, and Young was unafraid to seek out the best available voice on a topic – my first contributor credit came between following the name Steffi Graf.
There was amoment when I realised this magazine would be different. I remember asking Young after receiving my first assignment whether he wanted me to look for a sidebar, a piece of the story which could be broken off into a more easily digestible form. He dismissed the idea out of hand, even made me fel a little ridiculous for asking. At journalism school I was taught two things regarding sidebars. Firstly that they were a cheap, lazy way of hooking readers into a story when the writing didn’t measure up, and secondly that every editor I encountered would demand them. Not this one.
The strange thing was that this austere, old-fashioned approach bore spectacular fruit. Young recieved every award he was up for at Terry Maclean Sports Journalism awards, including Sports Journalist of the Year. The magazine was an instant, raging success. The most recently published Nielsen survey gave it 243,000 readers (to give you an idea of how large that figure is, it’s five times that of Real Groove, the publication I edit, double what celeb gossip mag NW and Auckland icon Metro can claim, and only 40,000 behind the grand old lady of New Zealand publishing, The Listener), and it was experiencing strong growth even as Young was being forced out of the publication which was his brainchild.
In his place comes Golightly, and on his first cover? Who else, but the injured, non-playing All Black captain Richie McCaw. The headline? Into Battle! Where exactly he’ll be battling isn’t specified. Just put the most famous guy on the cover, who cares whether he’s going to be involved in any sport this month. I wouldn’t mind betting that the days of seeing cyclists, triathletes, netballers and surfers on the cover are over.
Judging by the first issue, the magazine has already become indistinguishable from all the other areas Golightly holds sway. Prosaic, processional examinations of the game as it transpired, nothing more. His Radio Sport show is characterised by interminable interviews, with him stumbling around, barely asking a question, with all the charisma and intellect of that half-cut guy down the pub whose gaze you try and avoid.
Periodically he’ll bring up one of his tired old stand-bys, the ‘red card’, or ridicule anyone who opposes his perspective as a ‘lesbian tree-hugger’. He’s already set about politicising his sports magazine with an interview with John Key (extremely tedious too – I feel like he’s doing a reasonable job, but he’s clearly not a sports fan of any description) and, most mystifyingly of all, replacing Jeremy Coney’s column with one from WINSTON PETERS.
Am I dreaming? Jeremy Coney’s columns were a perpetual highlight of the magazine, erudite, compelling pieces of writing which talked of Harold Pinter’s love for cricket or drew lines between Snow White, Odysseus and the All Blacks. They were characterised by surreal anecdotes, dazzling leaps and the same kind of sparkling intellect which has long made his entry to the commentary booth such a delight.
And in his place we get Winston Peters, that most self-serving, career-before-country abomination of a politician, less than a year distant from his eviction fom parliament by the electorate after a series of serious scandals, which tainted his very fibre and obliterated any shred of credibility. Golightly’s Muldoonist tendencies and rank cronyism bring him back in front of us. The only saving grace of the whole fiasco is that Peters has chosen his first column to celebrate the history of Maori rugby, an institution which has always rankled Golightly, who so loathes ‘racially selected teams’. Middle class white men have always been the staunchest defenders of ethnic equality.
The rest of the magazine is little better. The longest feature runs to six pages, and the entire thing is a mess of sidebars, TV listings and wacky facts, with none of the passion or vibrancy which characterised it under Young’s stewardship. Within one issue Golightly has drained the life from Sky Sport: The Magazine and suffused its spirit, turning it into an extended version of his Sunday News sports section, plodding, empty and riven with clichés. And New Zealand sport is much the poorer as a result.