Tributes flow for founder of Media Studies at Massey

The late Dr Graeme Bassett, who was responsible for setting up Massey's media studies programme. (Pictured here in the early 2000s).

Massey University staff have paid tribute to Dr Graeme Bassett, the founder of the Media Studies programme and former Head of School (English and Media Studies), who died in Palmerston North recently aged 81.

Dr Brian McDonnell, a senior lecturer in media studies at Massey’s Auckland campus, worked with Dr Bassett and acknowledges him as “the main person responsible for the creation of a Media Studies programme at Massey University and who served as the director of this programme through its initial years and continuing until his retirement around a decade ago.

“I think everyone in the School of English and Media Studies, and particularly those of us in the media studies caucus, owe an immense debt to the energy, organisational skills and personal attributes Graeme brought, both to the task of convincing the University administration that media studies was a suitable discipline to be added to Massey’s offerings, and also to the recruitment of staff and the fostering of their development as scholars and teachers,” Dr McDonnell says. “He was a very good, supportive boss and many of us who worked under his leadership also considered him a friend and mentor.” 

Dr McDonnell says Dr Bassett originally worked in the education area at Massey, “specialising in several fields ranging from physical education - he was a keen sportsman who had even played representative rugby for Otago, his home province - through to Assessment Theory. 

“He was very interested in new approaches burgeoning in the humanities such as British Cultural Studies and ideological analyses of film and television. This interest, along with his avid film-going, helped prompt him to press for an academic unit within Massey that would establish and pursue a professional specialisation in the contemporary analysis of the media and to introduce students to this new area of study.”

The first media studies classes began in 1991. “Early on Graeme recruited the key talent of Dr Geoff Mayer, a prominent Australian film studies academic who helped give the programme heft in its early years. Graham Slater came in to contribute to the production side of the major and Allan Meek joined the Palmerston North team later in the 1990s.”

Dr McDonnell was tasked with starting the programme in Auckland in 1995 and Associate Professor Joe Grixti and Dr Simon Sigley were appointed subsequently.

“As well as making all these professional contributions to media studies, Graeme should be remembered also for his personal qualities as a very humane, principled, considerate man, deeply concerned with New Zealand’s political, social and cultural wellbeing,” Dr McDonnell says. 

“He was a talented and active musician, particularly in the Manawatū band scene. People who knew Graeme valued his warmth and hospitality. He and [wife] Di opened their home to many friends and family. Graeme’s death this month after a short illness is a sad event and I extend my sincere condolences to Di and Graeme’s wider family. Poroporoaki, e hoa [goodbye friend].”

Dr Nick Holm, a lecturer in media studies based at the Wellington campus, said; “Beyond the debt the media studies programme owes him, I also feel a strong personal debt to Graeme, who taught me as an undergraduate on advertising and society, the course that I now teach. I owe a great deal of my own approach to media studies to Graeme. He was the first to teach me political economy and I can draw a line directly between his course and the research I’m undertaking right now. He was remarkably generous when I arrived in Palmerston North, providing me with boxes of his own resources and old books.”

Dr Ian Huffer, a media studies lecturer based at the Manawatū campus, described Dr Bassett as “a gentle and thoughtful person, taking great care to coordinate his teaching with mine through regular meetings at his house. In the years since then I would often see him around town on his bike and at the Lido [Aquatic Centre], and he always took a keen interest in how I and the family were getting on.  

“He was also always keen to hear about developments in media studies at Massey and to discuss the evolution of the discipline in a wider sense. A great loss in every sense.”


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