Telum Talks To... Amanda Cropp, Christchurch Business Bureau Chief, Stuff
You are currently Christchurch Business Bureau Chief for Stuff. Can you talk us through what you're responsible for?
I joke that my title is a bit of a misnomer because the bureau now consists of me and a part-time Commercial Property Reporter. Purely local Christchurch business stories tend to be covered by The Press, but I’ll often help out with contacts and background. I cover the tourism industry for the Stuff business team, writing for the Stuff website, the dailies and the Sunday Star-Times. I’ve also been heavily involved in writing about the exploitation of migrant workers, and the transport and hospitality industries. Although I’m based in Christchurch, my stories always have a national focus, something I was used to from the 20 years I spent freelancing for the likes of North & South and The Listener. I love long-form and investigative writing, and it’s a challenge fitting in-depth work in around the demands of daily news, but in the current environment I’m just grateful to have a salaried job.
Given New Zealand has been comparatively successful in suppressing the virus, what kinds of issues is the tourism industry now facing?
Pre-pandemic tourism was our biggest export earner and many businesses had become heavily dependent on international visitors, often largely ignoring domestic visitors who were still responsible for 60 per cent of the total spend. Now they have to woo the locals, but there is no way that Kiwis can fill the gap left by the loss of overseas tourists, and there is a fair bit of pain ahead. The flow on effects are huge because so many downstream businesses benefited from tourism, be it the country corner store selling snacks to campervanners, or high-end retail on Queen Street. It can become a tad depressing covering the COVID-19 economic carnage day after day and it’s good to do stories about clever businesses that have successfully adapted to the new (ab)normal.
What sort of impact will the second wave have on key tourism businesses?
The fact that Aucklanders couldn’t travel for business or leisure was felt all over the country. I was in a Christchurch café recently at 8.30am and it was empty because the hotel down the street was no longer getting corporate guests from Auckland, and other local attractions like the trams were noticeably emptier.
4th September is the 10th anniversary of the first Christchurch earthquake. How did the impact of the quakes compare with the impact of the pandemic?
The big difference is that the pandemic affects all New Zealanders. The rest of the country quickly got quake-fatigue post-2010 and 2011, and as a freelancer it became increasingly pointless pitching quake-related stories to Auckland editors unless they had a really strong angle of interest to all readers. COVID-19 is a great leveller.
What does a day in the life of Amanda Cropp look like?
Way too much time sitting at a desk talking on the phone. I’m a big fan of the way technology has revolutionised journalism and feel no nostalgia for the manual typewriters I started out using in my first job on the Auckland Star in 1980. However, I rarely do face-to-face interviews, which almost invariably produce better material. Being office-bound is largely because my interviewees are often outside Christchurch, but it’s also driven by the pressure to deliver stories fast.
Pet PR peeve?
Comms and PR people who don’t deliver by deadline. They should never, never, never start an email to journalists by saying “I’m just reaching out to you...” Makes me want to retch. I spent two-and-a-half years on the “dark side” doing comms for the Christchurch City Council when the isolation and poor pay of solo freelancing drove me nuts. It was highly educational and it does help understanding the tortuous sign off process comms people have to go through. Good comms isn’t rocket science but there isn’t nearly enough of it.
What’s your big hairy goal for the future?
I’d like to update my book, Digging Deeper, A New Zealand Guide to Investigative Reporting. It’s long out of print and Canterbury University has kindly agreed to republish it in digital form so it will be freely available on the university website. Much of the content, such as how to use the Official Information Act, is still relevant. But I’d like to refresh some of the “war stories,” and the chapter on journalistic sources is in desperate need of an update to take account of online sources that were not available back in 1997.