Time to live up to our own ideals
Tomorrow kicks off the start of Te Wiki o te Reo Ma¯ori (Ma¯ori language week) so we decided to start the celebrations early here by changing up our masthead. Te Tautiaki is not a literal translation of the words Sunday Star-Times but rather a statement of what we strive for. Te Tautiaki is the guard – it means to stand guard and protect. In the context of the newspaper, it’s our job to guard and protect against the abuse of power. Sometimes that includes turning the spotlight on ourselves.
As journalists, we are often referred to as powerful, and it’s true; we are privileged with a voice that amplifies the issues on which we take a stand. That voice has stood for much that is good – it has brought about positive change, shone a light on wrongdoing, and righted injustices.
In my time at Te Tautiaki, the Sunday StarTimes, we have carried powerful stories, including our Stuff Circuit team exposing
New Zealand’s deadly failures in Afghanistan; Tony Wall’s Drugging the Elderly series, which raised important issues about the way we care for our frailest citizens; and the ongoing exposure of sexual abuse and harassment in sport, business, and academia thanks to the work of top journalists, including the amazing Alison Mau.
But no person, or organisation, is without flaws. And on issues of race we have not always lived up to our own ideals.
There’s an old saying in news that ‘‘if it bleeds, it leads’’. In much the same way, I can recall as a young journalist many decades ago the news desk had more appetite for negative coverage of Ma¯ori, than for positive stories. But this editorial is my personal mea culpa – I can’t speak for the industry – so it’s only right for me to acknowledge that I’m in no position to point fingers. As a young reporter, hungry to get my name on page one, I was just as complicit.
But our other failing was the lack of diversity in our newsrooms. With Ma¯ori so poorly represented in the industry, it’s no wonder we were hopeless at telling stories of importance to that community.
Back when I started out in journalism I worked with or knew some exceptional Ma¯ori journalists – the late Richard Knight, Chris Wikaira, Jon Stokes and Reuben Wharawhara, to name just a few. But they were, in every sense of the word, a minority, as highlighted by Stuff national correspondent Carmen Parahi, who writes in today’s Star-Times about the hard slog of being a Ma¯ori journalist.
Hopefully the drive for greater diversity in today’s newsrooms will lessen that sense of isolation over time because we have got a lot better at acknowledging our flaws and understanding why we need to change. Parahi’s role at Stuff, for instance, includes oversight of the dedicated pou tiaka site and there has been a conscious effort to create projects that uplift the voices of Ma¯ori – such as the Aotearoa in 20 project in today’s StarTimes.
This can’t and won’t mend the hurt of our past mistakes. But I hope it means we are finally doing a better job of covering the stories that matter to the communities we purport to represent.
And in the meantime, it’s good to know we have journalists like Parahi who are brave enough to call us out when we need it.
We have got a lot better at acknowledging our flaws and understanding why we need to change.