The Front Page: The newspaper column around longer than Facebook, Twitter and Buzzfeed

Before the social media giants of the world were serving up bite-sized bits of content, author Ana Samways was doing it on the back page of the New Zealand Herald.

Her popular Sideswipe column was first launched in 2002 and since amassed a mammoth 5000 editions. You’d be hard-pressed to find many longer running columns than this in New Zealand media.

On today’s episode of the Front Page podcast, Samways joins us for a chat about longevity and whether she could ever imagine handing this great responsibility over to another journalist in the future.

• Follow the Front Page podcast here.

The story of the column starts in the Auckland newsroom, where Samways had the responsibility of answering the phones. The young journalist was answering the phones after recently arriving back from her OE.

It was then that opportunity crossed her path.

“The editor at the time was looking for snippets for short attention spans for the back page,” Samways recalls.

This simple idea would turn into an ongoing search for New Zealand curiosities to feed the beast on a daily basis.

Samways has many options to choose from, but after all these years there are few that really stick to her mind.

“I remember a woman who was a moderator on a big website. They did a story about a dog attacking a penguin and she was terribly distraught, and wrote a comment saying: ‘What if it was a child dressed as a penguin, then that dog would be up for murder.’

“Then there was another that came from the minutes of the Papatoetoe Cossie Club. They wanted to turn down the air conditioning because it was affecting the flow of their darts.

“The simple relatable things are quite funny.

Not all the correspondence Samways has received over the years has been quite as desirable.

“I used to get these cryptic messages sent by snail mail on the back of envelopes, and some were really creepy,” she says.

“That’s nothing new for a woman with a profile, but I’m glad those stopped.”

What didn’t stop, however, were the columns. They kept coming every day, pasted to the back page for the enjoyment of the readers.

And after 20 years, Samways hasn’t lost her motivation yet. She’s still on the hunt for the little curiosities that make New Zealand such a special place to live.

So could she ever imagine handing this hallowed responsibility over to someone else?

“From my cold, dead hands,” she laughs.

The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald,available to listen to every weekday from 5am.

• You can follow the podcast at nzherald.co.nz, iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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