News | 27 May 2022
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City Voice is back in digital form

For nearly a decade City Voice gave Wellingtonians a unique take on issues of the day. The old editions of the paper have now been digitised to be explored and enjoyed again online.

Simon Collins speaking in front of a projector with an image of a City Voice paper on it.
Founding editor of City Voice Simon Collins.

City Voice was published in Wellington from April 1993 to June 2001. Throughout its life 21,000 copies were delivered free each week to every letterbox in the CBD and inner suburbs. Another 7000 copies were available from newsstands on city streets and in cafes. Its tagline was ‘News You Can Use’.

The paper was founded by journalists Simon Collins, Jeremy Rose, Nick Bollinger, Mark Cubey, Rachel Woodley and others, photographer David Gurr, artist Chris Healey and a core of advertising, administration and distribution staff.

It was published by the Te Aro Publishing Cooperative Ltd with shares being held by around 160 people who had invested a total of $165,000 as core capital. However, it principally operated on its advertising revenue in an era before the widespread growth of online advertisements. 

City Voice soon became the regular outlet for dozens of reviewers, columnists and journalism students. It began the concept of a 'paper within a paper' where several pages within an issue would be handed over to local communities who had previously had few opportunities for their voices to be heard.

Two people point and read printed copies of City Voice paper on a presentation board.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster has fond memories of City Voice from early in his Council career.

“City Voice was a quality paper. It was always 100 per cent professional while run on a shoestring by people dedicated to bringing valuable, accurate local news to our city and allowing citizens to have a voice. Editor Simon Collins exemplified that with his incredible work ethic, professionalism, and service.

“The newspaper always encouraged debate and response. I recall many good back-and-forward debates in the letters columns – and even got involved in a few!

“City Voice always focused on playing the issues, not the people. I took a quick look back at some files and the first example I found was City Voice’s report on its own 500-person survey about waterfront issues, at the height of community debate on those issues.

“Their report was headlined ‘Wellingtonians split over waterfront,’ and detailed what the survey found. That’s the kind of fair, accurate, reporting I remember City Voice for. City Voice’s tag line ‘news you can use,’ was so apt.

“I am thrilled that our library team have digitised nearly 400 editions of City Voice. They capture an important part of our city’s history.”

Pukehinau Lambton Ward Councillor Iona Pannett, who stepped into launch the digital collection at an event on 26 May as Mayor Foster recovers from Covid, says City Voice marked one of her first forays into political activism.

“I was concerned that City Voice accepted advertising from a sex shop that sold material which objectified women. Editor Simon Collins was very responsive to these concerns and the paper changed its policy.

“It was that attitude which made City Voice such a vital part of the community. It was fair, fearless and strived to include a diversity of voices and opinions. It punched above its weight and was well ahead of its time.”

City Voice founding editor Simon Collins says the paper aimed to give ordinary Wellingtonians a voice on the issues that concerned them, and to provide the information they needed to get involved in those issues and in the life of the city generally.

“We tried to open the paper to everyone, not just the rich and powerful elite who dominate the 'news' in the mainstream, commercial media.

"We set up the paper as a worker-owned cooperative so that it would be run by and for everyone who worked for it, not just for the investors who generously invested in it. 

"More than 20 years after the paper closed in June 2001, it's wonderful to see it being made available to the world digitally! I hope that it might still be an inspiration for others. We still can create media that work for ordinary people, and we, the people, can use the media to get involved in our community and in the world."

Gabor Toth presenting to a room of people in front of a projector screen which has an image of City Voice on it.
Wellington City Libraries History Specialist Gábor Tóth.

Nick Bollinger says being part of the group that founded City Voice was incredibly exciting, and unlike any other work he’s ever done.

“Everything had to be done from scratch, from deciding what the mission of the paper was going to be, to designing its co-operative structure. It was driven by shared ideals and high principles.

“Though there were endless difficulties trying to make ends meet, and constant debates about what we were doing right or wrong, the feeling that we were truly giving a voice to a community, creating something where it hadn’t existed before, was intensely satisfying.

And what a great bunch of people to work with! Kind, creative, eccentric, driven, and deeply bonded by a common cause,” Mr Bollinger says.

Wellington City Libraries History Specialist Gábor Tóth says the scanning of City Voice issues started in June 2021 and took almost a year to complete. It was an involved process.

“With the oldest copies nearly 30 years old, the newsprint was yellowing and brittle with ‘acid burns’ along the crease through the middle where the copies were folded. This meant each page scan had to be individually straightened, cropped and contrast adjusted. Library date-stamps, graffiti, rips and tears were then digitally erased.

“It was a time-consuming process but we were determined to get each copy looking as good as it did when it hit the newsstands.”

Mr Tóth was assisted in his work by Paige Garner who was employed under the New Zealand Libraries Partnership Programme – a Covid-related assistance scheme administered by the National Library.

All scanned copies of City Voice are available to view under the Collections tab on Wellington City Recollect – the online heritage platform of Wellington City Libraries.