NZME. Northland has dumped me as a columnist because one unqualified person wrote one angry letter

A Whangarei person wrote a letter to the editor of the Northern Advocate on July 14 in response to an upbeat, helpful column I published in Savvy. The letter was published. NZME. then used the letter as an excuse to dump me as a columnist. flippant

Now, I do have some hurt feelings around this absolutely. Let me deal with that quickly:

  • I was providing free, unpaid work, so a little more thanks would have been nice, especially considering my enjoyable, well-honed writing style has a significant following of readers.
  • It was a constructive dismissal ie. Somebody at NZME. was looking for a reason to get rid of me and used the letter as an excuse.
  • I was told by NZME’s Northland operations manager that I had caused ‘reputational damage’ to NZME. Yeah, nah. Damage in the opinion of one unqualified person, yes. 
  • NZME still hasn’t shared with me the letter or the reasons for dismissal! It’s unprofessional that I had to ask around and get shown the letter. 
  • There’s also the factor of being hurt because my tone wasn’t understood! Yes it is risky to mix humour with clinically-sound advice, but that’s exactly what I achieved. I’m hurt that one person’s opinion has been seized upon as an excuse to fire me from a volunteer position. 

Some corrections about the complaint author:

  • The complainant, who calls herself CEO, has not been named by a board of directors as the chief executive officer of Business Crisis Support NZ Limited. She is a sole director and can give any title to herself that she likes. She is not listed as CEO on any official documentation or company registration. When James Adonis wrote some journalism on this for Stuff in 2014, he put it like this: “The sole trader whose business card refers to him as the CEO or the managing director. He’s not, in reality, managing or directing anything (especially in a business comprising just one person) to justify such a grandiose headline. To most people, those types of descriptors normally characterise leaders of big companies. The sole trader, in his blatant attempt at pompous marketing, isn’t fooling anybody.”
  • The complainant registered her company only one week before sending in her letter of response, and signed it “CEO, Business Crisis Support NZ.” I would suggest the complainant used the letter as a publicity stunt to gain attention for her newly-launched venture. 
  • The complainant , sadly, doesn’t have a website or a professional email address- just a Facebook group, so the person is hardly an industry representative. 
  • The complainant’s only expertise seems to be around Asperger’s syndrome (she convenes a support group of some kind). The person only holds a bachelor of education – no qualifications that I can see in the area of mental health. Or operating a business. Or journalism. 
  • The complainant is weirdly obsessed with bankruptcy and petitions about insolvency. 

What went wrong here: 

  • Any organisation which uses the labour of unpaid volunteers like me needs to have process and policies to handle intake and departure of volunteers. If NZME Northland has these policies written down, they were not applied here. 
  • The complainant is only as much of a mental health expert as I am – that is, we draw on the same sources: The Low Down, Depression.org.nz. I am a journalist who drew on those sources; the complainant , alas, is not a journalist. 

And now, a helpful, constructive column referencing advice from real mental health professionals, plus my experience working at Northland District Health Board

Keep Your Mental Health Up Over Winter

By Michael Botur

Winter worsens our mental health for lots of reasons – there’s no daylight after work, it’s challenging to do washing or exercise, and Winston Peters is Acting Prime Minister. There are a few simple and shame-free instructions you can follow, though, to get your moods in a good place, and it all starts with owning your moods.

Be like my liberal pinko friends and use phrases like “I’m anxious” or “I’m worried” or “Recently I’ve been unhappy… .”

Don’t tell people to “Swallow some concrete pills” or “Sack it up.” Instead, try saying these sorts of things to people you care about:

  • Tell me how you feel about that.
  • Are you eating and exercising right?
  • I’m here to listen whenever you want to share.

If you are having low moods every day, phoning Lifeline is a good start and may lead to your doctor helping out (phone 0800LIFELINE or text ‘Help’ to 4357).

And now, some winter mood-lifting advice for you:

Cross That River

You won’t find spiritual satisfaction by binge-watching Lightbox. Instead, doing something as simple as walking a loop of a cul-de-sac you’ve never been down will help you feel happy. In the words of Anthony Bourdain, who emerged from a druggy kitchen in his 40s then completely revolutionised his life, “If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river.”

Have muddy mini-adventures.

In healthy doses, risky activities can stimulate brain function and relationships or reduce symptoms of depression. You should find going into the wilderness and getting wet and muddy is wholesome, cheap, and replenishing. I personally go hiking and mountain-biking. There is even an entire therapeutic specialty around this: Adventure Therapy.

Don’t dwell online (unless you’re on Depression.org.nz)

Reading vicious whiny hipster rants on The Spinoff may seem like therapeutic problem-sharing, but sitting alone in one place staring at a bright screen late into the night is bad for your sleep, and bad sleep means bad moods. Piles of evidence tells us that face-to-face human contact is better for keeping depression away than lurking online. Find someone today to share a cuppa.

Depression isn’t just a bad day

Head to TheLowDown.co.nz or Depression.org.nz. Both websites offer checklists helping you distinguish the fleeting disgruntlement of having your short story rejected by Landfall from clinical depression which requires a medical intervention.

Walking around the block isn’t dorky

Kids and teens think walking is wack and driving is dope. They’ve got it all backwards, though: walk around the block and you’ll feel less anxious about your neighbourhood, your brain will release delightful hormones, your blood pressure will ease, and you’ll receive mental stimulation including ideas for excellent NZMEcolumns.

UPDATE AUGUST 15 – NZME / Herald have now deleted most of the other columns I wrote for them off the website. Nice one. Presumably they’re as embarassed as I am about the way this has all been handled. 

Author: Michael Botur

NZ writer

One thought on “NZME. Northland has dumped me as a columnist because one unqualified person wrote one angry letter”

  1. What a ridiculous opinion of this “CEO” reacted to by a week Paper. She doesn’t know what she is talking about.

    Someone’s mental wellness is not the property of mental health professionals, especially not bloody psychologists and psychiatrists. They are all at the bottom of the cliff of the spectrum of acute mental health.

    The more lightheartedness and discussion you can bring to the topic, the better. No one criticizes Mike King’s open forum on the Nutters Club. He’s no psychiatrist.

    The best helpers of a depressed person is the person themselves, family and friends, exercise and positive diversions. Counselors are helpful too. But keep health professionals in their boxes.

    You’ve been hard done by here Mike.

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