The catalyst was Teuila Fuatai’s column âWhy I Found It So Difficult to Write About Racism in New Zealand for The Herald,â published in June of last year.
Fuatai, a first generation Samoan whose parents immigrated to New Zealand in the 1970s, was commissioned to write a report on racism in New Zealand. The backdrop was the Black Lives Matter movement which was gaining momentum in Aotearoa.
Fuatai hit immediate roadblocks. A proposal for an interview with a Black Lives Matter Auckland co-leader was boxed when the organization realized they were representing the Herald. The official line: “Our refusal to participate in an interview is due to the biased opinion that the Herald chooses to cover issues related to race and how that supports white supremacy.” It was not for them to educate the Herald by showing and recounting examples of racism in its coverage, they said.
They suggested that the Herald clean up its own act first. Fuatai describes the moment as “deeply embarrassing and confronting,” but she says articulating this idea to her predominantly white editors was infinitely more difficult.
The article sparked a storm of debate. The underlying resentment against the Herald among Maori and Pasifika communities was highlighted, as was the general lack of trust of other ethnic communities in the mainstream media.
Senior editorial staff in The Herald grappled with the depth of this resentment. To be seen as “old white men for old white rich men” media was a bitter pill to swallow. It was not a true reflection of the staff in the regional newsrooms of the Herald or the NZME.
Senior management acknowledged that attempts to immediately thwart this view were likely to be viewed as hypocritical and misleading. We had to reflect and be introspective on our approach to news and storytelling. We needed a long term plan that takes an authentic Tiriti approach to how we commission, write and publish stories.
During this period of editorial introspection, I turned the mirror on myself. I was deeply ashamed. And the shame was on me, not on my employer or the mainstream media.
Having been in the industry for 40 years, what significant contribution have I made to Maori journalism?
All Maori and Pasifika journalists know the challenge of juggling the demands of a newsroom and the expectations of your people. It’s hard. As a result, many have left mainstream media out of frustration and a feeling that most newsrooms are not culturally safe.
I did not resign. Instead, I deliberately took a step back from the frontline of reporting and built my career on the operational side of journalism, specializing in newsroom production and editing.
The debate sparked by Fuatai’s column was the wake-up call I needed to step up and bring my wahine MÄori to the fore. NZME was ready to adopt a bicultural strategy and I needed to pay dues. It was a vocation.
I accepted the role of Head of Cultural Partnerships with a mandate to drive the strategy – which includes deployment of Tiriti, te reo and tikanga (Maori etiquette) training – commission relevant content for Maori communities, apply a cultural lens to Maori and establish meaningful links with Maori and ethnic communities, and recruit and develop young Maori talent.
It is not without a significant challenge. We have started but there is still a lot to do. And it is exciting. Our goal is to create a lasting and authentic platform for Maori storytelling, a process that requires trust and patience.
But it’s a privilege to be in this 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 Maori content called KÄhu.
It features Maori stories and talents drawn from our newsrooms across Aotearoa. It features our exciting young Maori 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. KÄhu’s content is complemented by the best of Maori news from media partners MÄori Television and RNZ, including Moana Maniapoto’s award-winning news show, Te Ao with Moana.
Tomorrow we are launching a refreshed KÄhu, with a simple design, enhanced with a color palette reflecting the falcon’s natural environment. KÄhu’s Instagram account will also be launched as @kahunews.
The kÄhu, the native harrier of Aotearoa, is embodied in Maori tradition as a messenger of the gods. The bird is smart, cheeky, and perceptive, making it the perfect mascot for a section showcasing Maori journalism.
MÄ te huruhuru, ka rere te manu / With feathers the bird will fly