Gavin Ellis on Whale Oil book: “a harrowing slaga” but enduring long form journalism

RNZ media commentator Gavin Ellis applauded what Margie Thomson’s book Whale Oil

Margie Thomson’s investigation into the Whale Oil blog suggests that books may be the most enduring type of long-form journalism.

Transcript (from 6:22)

Great cover on that book, it’s not a whale so much as a sort of a monster of the deep coming up from the bottom of the book.

I think it was Margie who said that a whale was inappropriate, too nice to depict Slater and the dirt he is infamous for.

I think the monster comes from Matt Blomfield’s famous wrestler grandfather Lofty, who created an octopus hold.

Whale Oil by Margie Thomson really is a harrowing tale about a man, a businessman called Matt Blomfield and his decade long fight to clear his name after it was besmirched in a pretty serial fashion by Cameron Slater on the Whale Oil blog.

The book itself, I thought Finlay Macdonald summed it up perfectly, let me just read you one sentence of what he said. he said:

“Many readers will need a shower after a session with this book, and and Margie Thomson is to be applauded for her willingness to go where only trolls and the spiritually misshapen could feel at home.”

And that’s really, this is a, when I say it’s an awful book, it’s a very very good book. What it said is really quite awful about the ability of social media to basically destroy the reputation of an innocent person, and she sets about disproving virtually everything that appeared on the Whale Oil blog.

Of course Matt Blomfield has won defamation cases against Cameron Slater over it, but it’s a harrowing slaga, saga, but the thing that impressed me most I think is that it shows, with books like this it shows that this sort of excellent very long form journalism, you know the book chronicles a saga over ten years.

It may be that the most enduring form of journalism that we have.

The work that we do as daily journalists is ephemeral, you know it’s here one day and gone the next. I used to hate people saying that today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish wrapper, but there’s an element of truth in that.

This sort of deep investigation, and of course she’s not alone, we have a number of other journalists who’ve written books about different subjects, Rebecca McPhee, absolutely, and I think that they do us a real service by having an enduring form of journalism.

Now of course books are not regarded as a news activity, which is a problem under the Privacy Act, which makes them vulnerable, more vulnerable than a daily journalist would be.

Whale Oil was carefully vetted by lawyer Stephen Price to avoid possible legal actions.

Even with proposed changes to the Privacy Act I don’t think that this form of journalism enjoys the same protection as news activities do.

However books have an advantage of time to check out their accuracy and reduce risks.

But nonetheless I really commend not only this book but the whole process of committing to books.

This sort of long form investigative journalism, it really is great reading but also the lessons in them remain for the future, and that’s something in daily journalism we’re in danger of losing, particularly with the avalanche of material that we have bombarding us every day that is so ephemeral and this sort of anchors it with a degree of permanence. let’s hope so anyway.

It’s true that newspapers are published and sold one day, and disappear off the newsagents’ shelves by the end of the day. Books remain for sale on bookshelves for weeks.

But publishing news online means that it does endure far more than it used to. It can be just a Google search away. Enduring news – and blog posts – provide a lot of readily available research material for books like Whale Oil.

The difference with well researched and written books like Whale Oil though is that they collate and filter and edit a vast amount of material – and there is a vast amount of material in the Matt Blomfield story.

One of the successes of Whale Oil is that Margie took a huge amount of information and made it interesting and readable, while putting on record an awful campaign of attack that took place over many years.

It was, as Ellis says, a harrowing Slater saga, or saga.

Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  9th June 2019

    Needs a lot more focus on what made it harrowing: failure of police to act, failure of courts to produce timely justice, failure of official investigations to publicly denounce false allegations, failure of regulators to enforce a right of reply.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  9th June 2019

      I meant Ellis above, not the book. Book journalism is valuable but actually may not be as accessible or long-lived as internet published articles.

      • I think Margie’s book is a valuable record, but information being accessible online is one reason I have kept contributing to the record of this sorry saga here.

        Now people searching for information on Blomfield’s problems won’t find any of the defamatory posts at Whale Oil, but they will be able to find facts about it posted here, including on wider related issues.

        This is a primary reason why I have been targeted by Slater, Spring, Nottingham and their associates. All three of them tried to shut this site down with trumped up and extremely embellished allegations – all that did was make me more determined to put the truth out there. I’m still being threatened with vexatious legal action (since the book was launched).

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  9th June 2019

          I had thought that an effective response to the anonymous slanders would be to label them with the true author’s identity and leave them permanently on record. Unfortunately this would only be possible when you had proof of that identity.

        • Maggy Wassilieff

           /  9th June 2019

          I see some of your posts (2011 General Elections) are available on the NZ Web Archive (run out of National Library).

          Have you ensured that other posts are placed in a National Repository?

        • Loki

           /  9th June 2019

          Pete, if these clowns (and I am assuming it is Spring) are still trying to mess with you.. You need to publicise this. Write posts about it. Push it on Twitter. Call your media contacts. Don’t let these evil scumbags continue to disturb you.


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