TEN Years Old!

mailife - - Anniversary - By STAN­LEY SIMP­SON

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

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