Q&A – With Reay Neben

Reay Neben is undoubtedly the matriarch of community newspapers in New Zealand. She’s watched the community evolve from strawberry farmlands to a bubbling cauldron of cultures that call Howick ward their home.

More importantly, the maverick publisher of Times Media has been around to make sure that the Times newspaper has been a voice of the community.

Reay has survived it all from cutthroat competition, digital media invasion, health scares and crippling lockdowns, standing tall, undaunted and actively involved in the changing communityscape.

In the month and year that the Times newspaper celebrates a momentous half a century, FARIDA MASTER talks to the guardian of hyperlocal news.

The lady of grit and determination who will do anything to ensure you get your weekly dose of community news.

There has been a huge change of Times in the last 50 years. What are the highlights of this incredible journey with its ups and downs?

There are so many highlights, winning lots of awards and being one of the first newspapers in the country to have a news website. One of the memorable moments was winning the Australasian PANPA award for ‘Best Website’, ahead of the Sydney Morning Herald in 2005. The following year we were runners-up to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Another defining moment was winning the 2006 Westpac Awards as the ‘Employer of the Year’. We were runners-up in three other categories.

This was a golden time for our newspaper business. We’ve had many firsts to our credit including the first community newspaper to use digital photography. In those days we published the Howick and Pakuranga Times three times a week and many other community papers. The magazines came later.

As I look back, I feel we have always been in the privileged position of being a recorder of history and being a part of the changes as the new Howick ward has evolved. Seeing the Buddhist temple being established in our area, who would imagine what an asset it has been? We’ve witnessed the Manukau City Council gobble up the Howick Borough Council and then Manukau Council met the same demise as Auckland Council in 2010, consolidated all the small councils and the Howick Ward came into being.

It was so exciting when the farmland on the corner of Chapel Road and Botany Road was sold and Mainzeal Construction began to develop a new town centre. Botany was born and opened in May 2001.

The landscape has completely changed. We used to live in Ormiston Road and would wait for the cows to cross the road on Ormiston Road. Those were the days people had batches in Beachlands and Maraetai, and Chapel Road was mostly country until you reached Manukau.

Being the voice of the community for all these years has been a privilege. It’s wonderful being totally involved in a community that equally cares about us.

Any low points?

In terms of the tough times, in all the 50 years of publishing, the lockdown has been the hardest for the business. During our first lockdown we brought out the digital paper. There is not a single person that doesn’t have a sad story to share. We worry about kids not going to school, events being cancelled, local businesses struggling to survive.

What is the secret of never giving up despite the tough times that you’ve faced?

There is always something to look forward to. Right now it’s the 175 celebration of Howick. It’s the involvement of people in the community and seeing them succeed. Knowing what’s going on and having the ability to make a difference. I am very lucky I’ve always had wonderful staff that stayed with me for the long run. Our advertising clients and readers have always cheered us on.

Any hidden talent that no one knows about?

I was a trained opera singer when I was young. I’ve sung on the radio from the age of nine as part of the Uncle Tom’s Choir and then I was in many amateur musicals.

Tell us about your tryst with the Times? How did it begin?

My first husband Roger Smith was an experienced and talented journalist and I was good with sums so we made a good team for many years, running a new business. To start with, it was very basic. Roger was our photographer as well as the writer. To develop a film without a dark room, we would drape the bed covers over him so it was extremely dark. It worked for a while.

Marianne Kelly who was a journalist with us a few years ago was our very first journalist, we employed back in 1973. Over the years that has been a common occurrence of people leaving and then returning.

In the early eighties, the Times needed to take control of its own prepress production and we formed another company, Business Media Typesetting with Brian Neben. That was forty years ago. Together we have been heavily involved in our community, and also very involved with the community newspapers industry. He is my rock.

A film you’ve watched over and over again?

Love Actually.

The best piece of advice you’ve received?

Don’t sweat the small stuff…. which unfortunately I always have. I’m learning not to now.

Have you planned any special celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Times Media?

We will have a series of events to tie in with the 175 years of Howick. We’ve got a whole year to plan. It’s got to be fun. There are so many people who have contributed to the success of the Times and we would like to involve all of them. So many journalists have been with us who are nationally and internationally known. Lot of people started their careers with us even as paper runners and are all doing exceedingly well.

Three people (living or dead) you would like to have dinner with?

  1. Freddy Mercury, I’d love him to sing for me!
  2. Billy Connolly so that he can make me laugh.
  3. Jeffrey Archer to tell the stories.