Watch Out: Coffee News has a Rebel at the Helm

Watch Out: Coffee News has a Rebel at the Helm

Local looking to spice up the world’s most vanilla newsletter

In defiance of the Coffee News franchise’s prime directive of being trivial and mediocre, local franchisee Ash is keen to promote Dunedin's underground print media scene in its coffee-table-corporate-shitposting pages.


Ōtepoti Zinefest organiser Spencer Hall describes Coffee News content as “junk mail with trivia and horoscopes; the Giggle TV of print media.”' For example, last weeks “Did you know?” section included the gobsmacking revelation that sunscreen and thick clothing protect a wearer from dangerous radiation from the sun. Wow! Others find the inoffensive and amateur style endearing. “I dunno, I love it. Its shitness is part of the charm,” said Jeremy Potts, a local artist.


Coffee News isn’t low quality on accident. In fact, it may be the first ever instance of carefully constructed corporate shitposting. In a since-deleted Spinoff interview, the NZ proprietor and master franchisee Rudy Kokx explained the importance of not emphasising “nasty stuff and bad news” so that advertisers know that their brand will have favourable associations. And this approach has paid off: Coffee News is the most widely printed weekly publication in the world, with over 600 franchises and offices in eight countries (that’s what their website claims, anyway).


The content of an edition of Coffee News is almost entirely dictated by an editor in Auckland who receives the week's content directly from the American parent company, which scours the internet for harmless content to be published worldwide. “We have an agreement with the American parent company that we don’t touch the copy, apart from on the ‘What’s Happening?’ page,” said Kokx, which is about half a paragraph usually dedicated to non-profit organisations. So how could Coffee News possibly promote Dunedin artists without setting off alarm bells?


Enter your local Coffee News franchisee, Ash. Ash has been working for Coffee News since the pandemic put a stop to his dreams of running a cafe, and he has ambitions to take the publication beyond its strictly-controlled framework by including things like extra weekly inserts, opinion pieces, and could even help local artists by delivering their publications to his vast network of 150 Dunedin outlets (soon to be 300).


There have always been spaces where one could seek out intellectual societal discussion. Coffee houses were once the place where civilised society gathered to debate economic theory and gossip over whose ankles were on display at Sunday Mass. Black Star Books has a grand collection of local zines, and of course there’s the yearly Ōtepoti Zinefest – and rumour has it that the good anarchists of Yours Cafe have a newspaper in the works – but speaking and being heard are two different things. Like Windows updates, the mood to read comes unexpectedly, and ignoring it may render you unable to connect. Accessible and nearby print-based media is, therefore, essential. However, Dunedin artists are a troubled folk: sickly, fearful of the sun, and antisocial – unwilling or unable to risk life and limb depositing their precious works around the vast and intimidating ecosystem that is Dunedin's public sphere.


Ash has already evaded the scrutiny of his higher-ups by publishing different ads in the physical editions to those in the online editions seen by management. Cheeky. This isn’t to say that anything gets through; weight loss pills and spiritual training are one thing, but according to Kokx anti-vaccine mandate advertisements have been turned down by the Dunedin franchisee. Kokx says Coffee news should stay away from any such advertisements (pro or anti), political parties, and any religion – but what if an entirely different publication were to be inserted into the fold of every edition?


Can he get away with it? Watch this space, things are about to get weird.


This article first appeared in Issue 4, 2023.
Posted 2:28pm Sunday 19th March 2023 by Ruari Warren.