Reflections from a bureau chief
It was early 2000 - the beginning of a new millennium and a new career for this recently graduated journalist.
I’d started working in television but quickly decided to return to my original love — the written word. I grabbed the opportunity to start on the Mirror.
It isn’t difficult to become known as the local reporter in a small town like Alexandra, especially when you rock up with the index finger of your left hand bound in a splint and permanently pointing elsewhere — the result of an incident with the lid of a tin can. I still feel squeamish when I look at the jagged scar but it was a great conversation starter. People were welcoming and the stories started rolling in.
I’d barely warmed the seat when I faced my first major story, a plane crash in the Lindis Pass. Six people on board the Cessna were returning from Warbirds Over Wanaka to Wellington. All of them, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed. It was Easter, I was on my own in the office and couldn’t think where to start. However, a bit of sage advice from Invercargill saw me land an interview with one of the first on the scene. I barely knew what to say and would do things very differently now, but it was a learning curve that has served me well. It is also symbolic of the relationships I have made over the years at the Mirror.
I was only in that role for a few months, but returned as the bureau chief in 2011 with the brief of working with the seven editorial staff covering for Stuff.co.nz, The Southland Times and the Mirror on producing the best content for all publications. Old-fashioned as it may seem, a highlight every week has been holding the Mirrors in my hand, flicking through to see the final result of a massive team effort and watching readers pick it up to see what grabs their attention.
There have been massive changes over those years and some really challenging times but lots of highlights also. We’ve been nationally recognised — twice finalists in the Community Newspaper of the Year awards and our journalists have made it as individuals also, we’ve created a new Wanaka edition, we’ve run a hugely successful short story competition, had some cracking front pages and broken our fair share of news stories in a competitive media landscape.
This was only achieved because we have been a solid team of journalists, sales people, producers, photographers and graphic designers. We’ve also enjoyed wonderful relationships with the wider community, as readers, advertisers and supporters.
It was this incredible community engagement that made it possible for the Mirror staff to make an enormous success of our Christmas collection. We were one of the first organisations to encourage readers to bring presents to put under our Christmas trees in Alexandra and Queenstown, to be distributed to families by the Salvation Army or Happiness House. Every year the piles seems to get higher and we were having to deliver the gathered presents to make room for more. For me, more than anything else, that symbolised the unselfish generosity of the people of this area and the positive impacts a community newspaper can have — aside from delivering the news.
After 31 years of the Mirror being published, I now have the honour of putting the Queenstown, Central Otago and Wanaka editions to bed for the final time. It is with a tinge of sadness that I do this, but with respect for our community, friendship with the fantastic people I have worked with in the past seven years and excitement as my own media journey points in a new direction.
Within a few weeks of beginning work at the Mirror I was writing a lead story on a fatal plane crash.