Herald on Sunday
‘I needed to pay some dues. It was a calling’
The debate helped bring my wahine Ma¯ ori to the fore. Lois Turei
The catalyst was Teuila Fuatai’s column “Why I found it so hard to write about racism in New Zealand for the Herald”, published in June last year. Fuatai, a first-generation Samoan whose parents moved to New Zealand in the 1970s, had been commissioned to write a news feature on racism in New Zealand. The backdrop was the Black Lives Matter movement that was gaining momentum in Aotearoa. Fuatai hit immediate roadblocks. A proposed interview with a coleader of Black Lives Matter Auckland was canned when the organisation realised she was representing the Herald. The official line: “Our declining to participate in an interview is because of the biased view that the Herald chooses to cover racerelated issues and how this upholds white supremacy”. It was not for them to educate the Herald through show-and-tell of examples of racism in its coverage, they declared. They suggested the Herald clean up its own act first. Fuatai describes the moment as “deeply embarrassing and confronting” but she says articulating that idea to her mainly white editors was infinitely more fraught.
The article set off a storm of debate. Simmering resentment against the Herald among Ma¯ ori and Pasifika communities was brought to the fore, as was a general lack of trust among other ethnic communities for mainstream media.
Herald senior editorial leaders grappled with the depth of that resentment. Being perceived as a media outlet of “old, white men for old, white, affluent men” was a bitter pill to swallow. It wasn’t a fair reflection of the staff in the Herald or NZME regional newsrooms.
Senior leadership acknowledged that attempts to immediately counteract that view were likely to be seen as insincere and disingenuous. We needed to reflect and be introspective about our approach to news and storytelling. We needed a long-term plan that took a genuine Tiriti approach to how we commissioned, wrote and published stories.
During this period of self-reflection by the newsroom, I turned the mirror on myself. I felt deeply ashamed. And the shame was for me, not for my employer or mainstream media.
Having been in the industry for 40 years, what meaningful contribution had I made to Ma¯ ori journalism?
All Ma¯ ori and Pasifika journalists know the challenge of juggling the demands of a newsroom with the expectations of your people. It’s tough. As a result, many quit mainstream media out of frustration and a sense that most newsrooms are not culturally safe.
I didn’t quit. Instead, I took a deliberate step back from the frontline of reporting and built my career on the operational side of journalism, specialising in newsroom production and editing.
The debate set off by Fuatai’s column was the wake-up call I needed to step up and bring my wahine Ma¯ ori to the fore. NZME was ready to adopt a bicultural strategy and I needed to pay some dues. It was a calling.
I accepted the role of head of cultural partnerships with a mandate to drive the strategy — which includes a roll-out of Tiriti, te reo and tikanga (Ma¯ ori etiquette) training — commission content relevant to Ma¯ ori communities, apply a cultural lens to stories affecting Ma¯ ori and establish meaningful connections with Ma¯ ori and ethnic communities, and recruit and develop young Ma¯ ori talent.
It is not without significant challenges. We have made a start but there is still much to be done. And that’s exciting. Our aim is to create a sustainable, authentic platform for Ma¯ ori storytelling, a process that requires trust and patience.
But it’s a privilege to be in that space and I consider it the most important mahi (work) of my career.
About eight months ago, we introduced a section on the nzherald. co.nz website dedicated to Ma¯ ori content, called Ka¯ hu.
It showcases Ma¯ ori stories and talent drawn from our newsrooms across Aotearoa. It features our exciting young Ma¯ ori journalists: Leah Tebbutt, Te Rina Triponel, Julia Gabel, Zoe Holland, Astley Nathan and Will Terite; provocative commentators Shane Te Pou, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Merepeka Raukawa-Tait; and contributing columnists Stacey Morrison and Aroha Awarau. Ka¯ hu’s content is complemented by the best of Ma¯ ori news from media partners Ma¯ ori Television and RNZ, including Moana Maniapoto’s award-winning news show, Te Ao with Moana.
Tomorrow, we launch a refreshed Ka¯ hu, simple in design, enhanced by a colour palette reflecting the hawk’s natural environment. Ka¯ hu’s Instagram account will also be launched as @kahunews.
The ka¯ hu, Aotearoa’s native harrier hawk, is embodied in Ma¯ ori lore as a messenger to the gods. The bird is clever, cheeky and discerning, which made it the perfect mascot for a section showcasing Ma¯ ori journalism.
Ma¯ te huruhuru, ka rere te manu / With feathers the bird shall fly.