TEN Years Old!
For those of us who were there when it started and were involved in the journey along the way to where Mai Life is today – this is a proud and glorious moment. When we left the magazine to move on to new projects or greener pastures – we would always tell the people who took the magazine on after us “Please keep the magazine alive. Because we almost died and sacrificed a lot to start it.” I am grateful to Naziah and her team over the years for keeping the magazine going – and for ensuring it remains an iconic and important source of literature for the country. We started of course in June 2007, putting together the concept a month before. The budget was tight. We started in a small room with five of us sharing a sheet of plywood as our table. This was also just six months after the December 2006 coup with the country as tense, fearful and nervous of the future as it ever was. People thought we were crazy to be trying to start a magazine in this uncertain political and economic environment. Advertisers were skeptical. Many observers felt we didn’t
have the experience and expertise to put a magazine together – and they were right. We didn’t really know everything there was to know about publishing a magazine (much of these we learnt by trial and error along the way) but what we had was loads and loads of passion. There was always passion and energy in the Mai Life office and our people were always challenging themselves to deliver an outstanding story or take a photograph that set us apart. Within four months – our articles and journalism was already winning awards – The Robert Keith Reid Award for Outstanding Journalism, Print Journalist of the Year and Business Journalist of the Year at the Fiji Awards for Media Excellence (FAME) in 2007. A year later in 2008 we again scooped the majority of the Print Awards winning Print and Business Journalist of the Year, Best Feature Article, and Best Series of 3 headlines. Solomoni Biumaiono’s ‘Switched at Birth’ and my story on Rupeni Caucau ‘Big Star from a Small Village’ actually competed as the remaining two finalists for the Best Feature Article award – such was the standard we were setting.
In 2009 we were regionally recognized, winning the PINA Pacific Print Journalist of the Year award. Our belief was that everyone has a story to tell, and everyone is a story. You just had to scratch beneath the surface, and another thing we quickly learnt was that to get the great stories – we had to ‘Go Out’. Go out of the office and out of Suva to see this beautiful country, meet the people and tell their stories. There were many challenging, emotional and inspiring stories along the way as well as the entertaining, informative, educational and fun pieces. We mixed humour and Fiji’s colourful lifestyles with good solid indepth journalism pieces, great success stories and unfortunate tragedies, to show Fiji in reality. We took our work seriously but we also enjoyed what we did. On assignments the team had no trouble mixing business with pleasure. Tony Qumi, Josua Toganivalu, Jonathan Teddy Veisa, Savenaca Viriviri, Jennifer Ali, Germaine Lee, Jone Kalouniviti, Solomoni Biumaiono, Kenneth Zinck, Judith Ragg, Ricardo Morris…there was no shortage of commitment. Consider Solo and Save Viriviri for instance, who wrote and took the photographs for our June 2008 cover story ‘Switched at Birth’ the story of an Indo-Fijian woman and iTaukei woman whose babies were mistakenly exchanged at Labasa Hospital on the 1st of August 1994. In a twist of fate, the Indo-Fijian baby was given to Catholic iTaukei parents Tevita and Sofia Maleti while the iTaukei baby was given to the Muslim couple Farida and Azim Khan. To get the story Solo and Save sailed to Savusavu on a shoestring budget, took the bus to Labasa, and then a carrier to the interior of Vanua Levu near the border between Macuata and Cakaudrove, to interview a Fijian family who faced the surreal experience of having their child switched at birth. On learning that the Muslim family whose child had also been switched were now living in Taveuni, the two spent the night in Labasa, travelled 15km out of the town the next morning to do another story assignment, then hitchhiked back to Savusavu where they spent the night with friends. They sailed for Taveuni at 4am the next morning, rushed to the settlement where the second family were living, and then got back within two hours to the same boat that took them to Taveuni as it prepared to return to Savusavu. They spent an hour at the wharf in Savusavu before the same boat brought them on the 10-hour journey back to Suva. They were practically on the road and at sea for three whole days to get the story for the enjoyment of Mai Life readers. Eventually our reputation grew and people started to respect the quality of our work. We went places where no local media before us had gone – such as Wakaya Island and Laucala Island. We were quite good at getting people to tell us their stories – something Mai Life has continued to do so well 10 years on. People trusted Mai Life to tell their story. At our first year anniversary in June 2008 I wrote: “Those who know our history will appreciate the character and spirit displayed by the crew in facing and overcoming challenges, to be where we are now. We still have a long way to go…but we will settle for nothing more than to achieve world class standards.” The same rings true today. Let’s celebrate 10 years of Mai Life and look forward to many years more.
Founders Stanley Simpson and Judith Ragg with the team at their first office in Garden City
The award winning team at the FAME awards
Judith Ragg and Stanley Simpson with Naziah Ali at the magazine’s 5th birthday