150 Issues of LIVE

Words by  Irena Brooks

20 Years 2004 – 2024

There aren’t many magazines that last for 20 years, but Taranaki’s first and only lifestyle magazine has been a success story since its inception in 2004. 

In this, our 150th issue, founder and editor Irena Brooks, reflects on how it all started, how it has changed, some of the challenges and what she still enjoys about publishing the region’s leading lifestyle magazine.

How LIVE began

“Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

It was a phrase Dave Chadfield, the erstwhile owner of Chaddy’s Charters, used to say often when I was the General Manager of Tourism Taranaki, then Destination Taranaki — our regional tourism organisation — back in the early 2000s.

Though I loved that role and the people within the industry, it involved some very long hours and after five years (in 2004) I left without a clear plan of what to do next.

It was a couple of months later while returning to Taranaki after a weekend with the family to Rainbow’s End that the idea of Live Magazine was hatched.

Sitting in the back seat with our eight-year old asleep across my lap, Tony driving and our 11 year-old fending off carsickness in the passenger seat, I started making copious notes about starting a New Plymouth lifestyle magazine.

I fleshed out an idea of the kind of content I wanted, the best format to use, and the people I wanted to work with. 

Thoughts were discussed with Tony, my perennial sounding board, fanning the flames of creativity and tempering my more outrageous ideas. He has always been my greatest cheerleader and support person.

By the time we got home I had an action plan to start on the next day and a name for the magazine — Live.

The first calls were to a range of printers to see what options there were and get an idea of cost.

After having founded and published fortnightly Taranaki newspaper Ragtime for nine and a half years (1988 – 1997) I already had a good grasp on what readers and advertisers would want from a local magazine. 

It had to have quality design and reproduction; have good, readable, local content that engaged people all the way through; and an effective distribution system to get advertisers’ messaging out to the most people, in the ideal target market, at the best possible price.

There was no question it would be a free magazine for our readers, with costs covered by advertising sales.

Sixteen years ahead of COVID, I always planned for Live to be a business I could operate from home to keep overheads down and be there for our kids.

I also didn’t want to have any staff as I couldn’t see that being a viable option without an office for them to work from. Consequently, all of Live’s team are freelancers or contractors.

Photographer Rob Tucker (who sadly died of cancer last year), was the next person on my list to call. We’d worked together at Tourism Taranaki and Destination Taranaki and he had become both a friend and somewhat of a mentor. In his usual positive upbeat manner he encouraged me to go for it and said he’d help out on the first three issues, though I’m sure we stretched that by several issues!

Ragtime’s experience served me well when it came to knowing which businesses to approach for advertising. After a fortnightly publication, a month seemed like a long time to put each issue together.

My five years with Tourism Taranaki/Destination Taranaki had introduced me to the region’s tourism operators and fledgling events industry that included our annual garden festival.

A term on the New Plymouth District Council (1997 – 2000) equipped me with knowledge on the politics within the region and which territorial local authority is responsible for various aspects in the community.

It only took a couple of months to get the first issue out, and it was published December 2004.

The lead story was on the New Plymouth District Council’s proposed sale of its Powerco shares, written by Bryan Vickery. Funnily enough, Bryan is now a councillor on the NPDC and the Perpetual Investment Fund (PIF) created from that sale (valued at $339m as at 30 June 2022), has returned over $240 million to ratepayers since 2004, offsetting rates to the tune of around $10 million each year.

That first issue had 52 pages with 62 advertisers. Interestingly, 39 of those businesses are still going strong!

Clegg’s Furniture had the back page … a position they held for 38 issues (until Jan 2008) and then again from #97 to #123, for a total of 55 issues. 

GJ Gardner nabbed their first back page in Issue #39 and held it sporadically (12 issues) until #126 and have been there ever since (a total of 36 issues).

Getting Live Out There

Most of Live’s changes came in the first year as we refined our new venture.

The first change was to devise our own distribution system.

Initially we paid a contractor to deliver most of our magazines (10,000 copies) to over half the homes in New Plymouth. But when we had complaints from people about their magazines being delivered sopping wet, or not at all, I realised I had no power to address issues directly with the delivery team — all I could do was complain to the contractor.

I’ve never liked being a complainer so with the help of my twin sister Julia Dolan, who had been a postie for something like 20 years, we devised our own distribution system.

We deliberately targeted areas of New Plymouth we thought people with discretionary income would likely live, as that was who Live’s advertisers most wanted to reach.

With young children of our own, we left out busy streets we wouldn’t like our own kids to be delivering on. Just as well as our five kids helped us deliver a lot of copies of Live in those early days, counting the number needed for each street as we went. The kids’ friends and team-mates were hired to help cover the new distribution areas.

Our own distribution system was up and running by issue 3, February 2005.

One of the benefits I hadn’t foreseen was that Live could go into every letterbox, even those with ‘NO CIRCULARS’ or ‘NO JUNK MAIL’ — and there were a lot of those! I asked several of the owners of those letterboxes if they would like to receive Live and after getting a 100% positive reaction, that became our default position. The only letterboxes we don’t deliver Live to are those with ‘POSTED MAIL ONLY’ or similar and three individuals who have requested not to get one.

This gives a real advantage to our advertisers, gaining access to readers who are discerning about what they look at and not having to compete with endless brochures from chain stores.

I could also have direct communication with my delivery team, so they knew to only deliver the magazines on fine days. As a mum it pleased me to know the kids wouldn’t be out there on wet and wild days. The children were paid 10 cents per copy delivered, and after discovering the going pay rate from the contractor we’d earlier employed was just 1 cent per copy, I was even happier we had devised our own system!

As Live has grown and the issues increased in size, delivery pay has also risen and I believe our delivery people are still the best paid in the region.

With my tourism background I contacted all the hotels and motels in the city to see if they would like a free regional magazine for each of their rooms. All but one said ‘Yes please’.

TSB Bank, a regular advertiser in our early years, allowed free stocks at each of their branches around Taranaki — a system that continues to this day. We also put copies in local cafes (another way to reach people with discretionary income) and with each of our advertisers.

There are now over 50 regular stockists (you can find these on our website) and copies are found in all sorts of places these days.

When Live became LIVE

The next big change was the name of the magazine.

Initially I thought LIVE would rhyme with ‘give’ but so many people rhymed it with ‘jive’ that it officially became Live during our first year.


From a monthly magazine averaging 52 pages to a quarterly magazine maxing out at 164 pages, Live has grown hugely since it started in 2004.

With this issue (#150) at 116 pages, Live Magazine had published 10,588 pages in our first 20 years.

Our editorial “recipe” has changed little during that time.

Our first issue was packed with articles covering local issues, people, health, fitness, hobbies, sports, fashion, (Helen Talbot designer), a home renovation, tramping (The Pouakai Circuit), business, politics, art, music, hospitality (The Hub, Fitzroy), snapshots (photos of people out and about in the community), and an entertainment calendar.

Twenty years later content still revolves around these themes. If it aint broke … don’t fix it!


2004 – 2011: 10,000 copies

2012 – 2018: 11,000 copies

2019 – 2020: 12,500 copies

2021 – 2024: 13,000 copies

Live Magazine has the highest circulation rates for any Taranaki magazine, by far, getting more magazines out into the community and directly into the hands of our readers.


2004 – 2011: monthly

2012: bi-monthly

2019: 5 issues a year

2023: quarterly

Reducing the frequency of Live from a monthly to a bi-monthly in 2011, was one of the best things I ever did. Having twice as much time to produce each issue saw our pagination increase straight away. Immediately my production costs were almost halved and advertisers doubled the longevity of their advertising for the same price — talk about a win/win.

We reduced the frequency again in 2019, to five issues a year so that Tony and I could have a decent break over the summer. Of course that meant we weren’t quite bi-monthly and also not quite a quarterly. 

In 2023 we finally dropped the Aug/Sep issue and became a quarterly magazine, which meant we got a winter holiday too!

Advertisers got extra long shelf-life out of every issue, making if more effective for them, at no extra cost.


I remember when the idea of getting Live to 100 pages was first suggested by designer Jaron Mumby for our 100th issue in 2017. I thought that was just wishful thinking, but he planted the seed. It was just a year later (issue #106 – the Len Lye Centre issue) that we had sold enough advertising to justify the magic three figures.

Issue #108 hit 116 pages and was our first issue with perfect binding (until then the magazine had always been stapled). Our biggest ever issue was 164 pages (Issue #115, Summer 2016/2017, and second biggest was 140 pages (Issue # 126, Summer 2018/2019).

Ad rates stay the same

One of the things I am most proud of is being able to keep our advertising rates the same as they were 19 years ago, yet providing a far superior product, with 30% more magazines per issue compared to our first seven years.

The Stories

Live’s content has always been 100% local, with stories about local people, events, issues, and businesses. 

While many other publications drag content off the internet, we pride ourselves on writing original content and bringing our readers fresh stories about things happening in our region.

Over the years we have investigated a range of contentious local issues.

I received my first threat over the lead story in Issue #1 about the New Plymouth District Council’s planned sell-off of its Powerco shares. The NPDC’s CEO at the time was Rodger Kerr-Newell (it wasn’t him) who went on to head The Rodney District Council (during the Auckland merger) and then the Shire of Halls Creek in Kimberley, Australia. In 2018, after 5 years in his Australian role, he was fired after a two year investigation found several breaches of serious misconduct.

We ran several stories on the former IWD plant (Ivon Watkins Dow) over the years.

In April 2005, 52 people who lived near the plant in Paritutu from 1962 – 1987 were found to have high levels of potentially cancer-causing dioxin in their bodies. IWD produced 245T at the Paritutu site from 1962 – 1987 and 2-4D from 1946 – 1998. When mixed together, the two herbicides make Agent Orange, which was used as a defoliant during the Vietnam War. Years later it was realised that Agent Orange was the cause of dioxin poisoning experienced by many Vietnam War veterans.
Rochelle West looked into ongoing chemical smells from the site in our January 2009 issue and 

our cover story from Sept 2009 was on the discovery of 2 dioxin contaminated drums accidentally dug up by NPDC contractors at Marfell Park. Three of six samples taken recorded levels of TCDD almost 3,000 times the globally accepted maximum ‘safe’ standard of 1000 parts per trillion. Another seven containers were discovered and disposed of along with 100 cubic metres of surrounding soil.

In 2007 we investigated the issue of Port Taranaki being the New Zealand site for an LNG (liquified natural gas) facility. The $500 million facility was predicted to fill the gap by the near depleted Maui gas field (which, incidentally, is still producing 17 years later, accounting for around 18% of the national output and now expected to last until 2034), and was purported to have a better than 50% chance of going ahead. 

Bryan Vickery’s article brought to light the hazards of the proposal and the likely detrimental effect to local property values and other options of revenue to the port, such as cruise ships. We followed that up with another lead story in the June 2008 issue, and again in June 2009. 

The venture never proceeded. 

Live has been a consistent voice in issues that threaten our environment and way of life.

Iron Sand Mining was covered in the August 2005 issue and updated in two subsequent issues (#100, June/July 2014 and #117, 2017). That’s another venture that hasn’t yet seen the light of day. Yet.

Our story on Fracking (Issue #88, Winter 2012) and How Healthy Are Our Rivers (#90, Oct/Nov 2012) both hit a nerve in the community with a plethora of letters in the following issues. 

We waded into the Fluoride Debate in Issue #81 (Aug 2011) and again in #84 (Nov 2011) when the NPDC voted to stop fluoridating the New Plymouth water supply for the first time in 40 years.

Last year (2023) the NPDC followed the government directive to restart fluoridating our water.


We’ve run plenty of interviews over the years and some of my favourites have been not only informative, but fantastically written, offering some surprising insights, with clever word play and just good story-telling.

In April 2005 we reported on Cara Sibsten and Tania Hockings who swum Cook Strait at the age of 17. That year we also found Taranaki’s largest family (The Te Paea family, with 14 children) and coined the term Jafanakians to describe the influx of Aucklanders heading to Taranaki to live.

FAIR COP was a terrific insight into the life of Detective Grant Coward. As Live hit the streets in September 2005 the first reports came in of the body of a young woman being found at Lucy’s Gully. The murder of German backpacker Birgit Bauer was to become one of Grant Coward’s most high-profile cases.

Interviewing Conrad Smith and Beauden Barrett for Issue #88 (Winter 2012) was also timely. Conrad had been appointed captain of the Hurricanes that season and Beauden was a new selection to the team. Just a few days after Live was published, Conrad was again selected for the All Blacks and Beauden made the All Blacks for the first time.

There are many Taranakians who grace our TV screens and Live has interviewed most of them: Mark Crysell (2006 and 2023), Patrick Gower (2022), Toni Street, Kim Downes, and Becky McEwan (Shortland Street actress) in the Oct/Nov 2018 issue, who also starred as a model in that issue alongside Taranaki rugby captain at the time, Mitch Brown (now playing in Japan).

Taranaki Mountainairs Basketball coach, Ross McMains, provided Live with one of the best quotes ever (Issue #112 in 2016), which was widely repeated around NZ (and beyond) when one of his team punched an opposing player later in the season. McMains’ coaching trajectory has since continued as an assistant Tall Blacks coach and into the NBA.


If nice guys finish last, the Taranaki Mountainairs will end the 2016 season well up the National Basketball League ladder. It’s not that they aren’t good blokes. They are. But not when you meet them on a basketball court. At least, that’s the plan.

“I want us to be the toughest, most grimiest, nastiest, hated, defensive team in the league,” says new coach Ross McMains.

Jim Tucker’s interview with John Mathews in our massive Len Lye Centre feature (40 pages) was brilliant. I was still getting requests for copies of that issue more than five years after it was published in 2017.

Sophie Braggins made national news when the married mother of two offered to be a surrogate for her good friend, TV star Toni Street. SOPHIE’S CHOICE featured in Live’s WINTER 2018 issue

IN THE RUNNING — Taranaki’s two top female sprinters Olivia Eaton (Issue # ) and Zoe Hobbs were both cover stories — Olivia in Issue #127 and Zoe in Issue #141, AUTUMN 2022.

Quite different stories, Olivia’s was not only about her running success, but a heart-rending story about the tragic death of her father. Zoe’s interview came at a time that she had just broken the NZ women’s 100m record that had stood for almost 40 years. Her times have been consistently improving ever since and Taranakians can watch her compete at this year’s Olympic Games in Paris. She will be the first NZ woman to compete in the 100m event at the Olympics in almost 50 years!

CUBAN CRISIS was a riveting account of Craig Nolly’s near death experience while on holiday in Cuba, and the long road back home and to health.

The Core LIVErs

We have had dozens of incredibly talented and committed people working on Live over the years.

Several are still on the team.

Of course, husband Tony has always been a part of Live by default, eventually taking over all invoicing and administration to free me up for advertising sales and editorial. Family has always been involved too (see sidebar The Family Connection),

Designer Jaron Mumby came on board in Year 2 (2005) and has been designing Live ever since, first under the name of Fire Design, then Little Rocket and now Favour the Brave.

Over the years Jaron has become a friend and sounding board for any ideas I am unsure of.

Together we have developed really efficient systems to minimise errors and make efficient use of our time and keep costs down. We have also had fun with various design concepts and a lot of Live’s success comes from him.

We make a great team and strive to make each issue better than the last, thereby creating a perpetually improving product. 

His wife Hannah is a regular Live writer and handles Live’s social media posts and they have two delivery boys waiting in the wings for a LIVE route to become available in their new neighbourhood now that they are almost old enough.

Current photographer Roger Richardson started at Live from the sixth issue (2005) and took over seamlessly from Rob as he became busier with his calendars, books and other freelance photography work. 

I attribute a lot of Live’s success to Roger … not only for his brilliant photos but the professional way he handles our clients.

Over the years I have endeavoured to hire the best freelance writers our region has to offer. I am incredibly proud of our Live editorial team — our current crop of Nick Walker, Virginia Winder, Hannah Mumby, Michelle Robinson and Emma Boyd — and also ones who have gone before, like Jim Tucker, Victoria Matsunuma, Bryan Vickery, Gordon Brown, Bruce Gatward-Cook, Hal Williams, Jolene Stockman and Helen Mays (and there are many more!)

We have had some wonderful people selling advertising for the magazine — Shelley Landon-Lane, Laurie Aitchison, Julie Rowe and Yvette Prideaux were the main ones.

Talented freelance photographers have shot for Live over the past 20 years, including Rob Tucker, Peter Florence, Brody Dolan, Shawn Peng (who did this month’s cover), Glenn Jeffrey and Andy Jackson.

There’s been a total of four columnists over our 20 years. 

Their regular columns offer a glimpse into current affairs, as well as their personal lives, with family and friends often making special guest appearances. The witty insights are often topical, and the clever wording a boon for logophiles confronted with endless social media dross. 

Often the subject matter is truly timeless and we’re re-running some of personal favourites over the least few pages of this special Live 150 issue feature:

Andy Bassett started his Live column in the very first issue with BOTH SIDES NOW (see page 33).

My youngest brother Richard Hobo was a part-time writer for the occasional story throughout the early days of Live and came on board as a columnist from Issue #85 (Jan 2012) writing his Being Dad column, almost three years after he first became a dad. My favourite, the classic WINE CLUB from issue #104, can be found on page 34.

We also had regular columns from Peter Mead, with his popular DIY Guy.

You’ll find one of his best  THE YUPPIES on page 36 from our June 2006 edition (issue 19).

Helen Brown contributed a column from issue #39  (Feb 2008) to #58 (Sept 2009).

Her column from Issue # 44 (July 2008): SHARING DESSERT can be found on page 338.

Family Connections

My twin sister, Julia Dolan, is pretty much the first person (after Tony) that I turn to for help when there’s a glitch in our systems and I need urgent help to get something done. She still helps us deliver Lives out to various stockists on delivery days and her story on a recent cycling tour of Norway she did with her husband Peter last year was one of our most popular stories ever.

Pete wrote a fitness column for the first two years of Live and has also regularly helped deliver Lives on distribution days for the past 20 years.

All three of my nephews and six of my seven nieces have been delivery kids for Live, as have both our sons (who have also modelled).

Karel Hobo, my 95 year-old dad, has always believed in me and essentially kick-started my first publishing venture Ragtime, with seeding money and loans when required. I’m sure he was grateful no further loans were needed with Live Magazine.

My late mum, Kate Hobo (aka Kathleen Stevenson), graced the cover of Issue #8 (July 2005), when Live unknowingly predicted COVID-19. Bruce Gatward-Cook investigated what the No.1 Threat to Taranaki was, and turns out it was likely to be a virus brought to the region by a surfer, grandmother or other overseas traveller.

The Missing Issue (pages 26 & 27)

We missed one issue of Live because of Covid.

You may not remember but when Covid first arrived no-one was sure how it was transmitted and how deadly it would prove to be in New Zealand. It certainly wasn’t the time for a “she’ll be right” attitude.

Our 2020 Winter issue was due to be published early June and though all of our team could have produced the content as we all work remotely anyway, putting a Live into over half the letterboxes of New Plymouth while everyone was isolating could have proved disastrous if we had even one infected delivery person.

Plus businesses would have been hard-pressed to know what to advertise as the situation changed daily.

Our first issue post-Covid came out at the beginning of August and my Editorial from that issue (#133) gives a glimpse into what things were like for most of us in Taranaki after that first lockdown.

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