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

- Lois Turei is head of Cultural Partnershi­ps at NZME.

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.

 ?? Photo / Rawhitoria Bosch ??
Photo / Rawhitoria Bosch

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