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NewsWire’s best year yet had other media noticing

Dec 18th, 2010 | By | Category: Featured Article, Front Page Layout, News

A wrap-up of NewsWire’s year (research by GREG FORD):


GOING UP: The graph lines show quarterly statistics of visitors to NewsWire from 2008 to now.

NEWSWIRE has just had its best year since launching in 2008, with nearly 250,000 hits in 2010, and some news stories that had mainstream media sitting up and taking note.

On the busiest day (December 7), nearly 3000 visits were recorded when news media realised the most recent story written about slain Kiwi soldier Jack Howard was done for NewsWire in September by former Wellington College classmate Jonathan Chilton-Towle.

Jack FEATUREJonathan (far left) – a current Whitireia Journalism School diploma student – had to go to ground for a day as every major NZ news outlet chased him for an interview.  A day later, he emerged to write a moving account of his best friend, a story published in the Dominion Post (as well as NewsWire).

Summary2For NewsWire’s team of (at times) 35-40 student journalists, the year was dominated by three big stories – the tragedy at the Pike River Mine in November, the Christchurch earthquake in September, and the financial problems that rocked the Whitireia Independent Student Association, a story begun in August that is still playing out.

NewsWire didn’t break any of these, but coverage was noteworthy for other reasons.

Reporters Nicole Bennik (right) and Greg Ford were sent to Greymouth to help the news desk at the Greymouth Star deal with the enormous media pressure during the Pike River disaster.

nicole and greg in office

GREYMOUTH CENTRAL: Greg Ford and Nicole Bennik working in the Greymouth Star newsroom.

It was an emotional visit, with most Grey Star reporters having close connections to the lost miners, but it was an experience not to be forgotten by the two reporters from Whitireia.

“The heart Greymouth showed was inspirational,” Nicole wrote on her return to Wellington. “It is a town united and people there will be strong for each other for a long time.”

Mine 12Greg Ford’s pictures of what went on behind the media scrum are a compelling record of what it takes to bring a big news story to audiences.

The pair also wrote a daily diary of their time on the West Coast, lucid accounts that drew widespread praise from journalism circles.

The Christchurch earthquake was major disaster which saw NewsWire reporters  like Owen Winter and Hanna Butler among the first to report what was happening on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, as Cantabrians went online to talk about their experiences.

The student association story broke in the Dominion Post in mid-August and presented NewsWire with something of a dilemma – should it be reporting something so close to home?

Fearing loss of credibility if the story was ignored, the NewsWire newsroom spent a week covering the association’s financial disaster from every angle.  Issues over where some of its money went are still unresolved as the year ends.

NewsWire’s 2010

JANUARY started quietly with a story by Bonnie Tai about a young kiwi songwriter who joined with Diana Krall for a concert in February, and a photo essay showing off the Wellington Rugby Sevens costumes.

Student Liz Proctor‘s pictures from the Sevens later won her a Canon single lens reflex camera in the Canon Photo of the Year Award.


Liz (dressed in a niqab) and Tasha Black wandered the city’s streets for an hour to photograph people’s reactions to Muslim veiled dress. It was part of a portfolio of work that later won Tasha a highly commended in the NZ Excellence in Reporting Diversity Awards, which is run by Whitireia Journalism.

Later in the year, Christchurch Press reporter Rebecca Todd took this year’s award.

As the year picked up, stories started to flow in, including a report of a mother facing deportation from Samoa without her children.

Qlevedon_&_his_Mommy]Janice Ikiua used her wide Pacific Island network of contacts to break the story and provide running coverage.

She finally reported in February that the mother had seen her children and the situation was being worked out.

Janice’s work was picked up by other media, including the Samoa Observer, and led to the longest debate on NewsWire’s comments page, with more than 100 mainly Samoan readers posting comments for both sides – and condemning the Samoan government and police for their indifference.

In FEBRUARY, Vaughan Elder (now a reporter at the NZ Press Association) wrote about the upgrade to Manners Mall providing more safety to pedestrians.

Little did he know that the project would cause such an issue later in the year.

February also saw a viral Facebook campaign – joined by 20,000 people – to “save” RadioNZ from threatened funding cuts. Curiously, NewsWire was the only news media outlet to report the social media campaign.TerryLEAD

We interviewed former RNZ senior manager Terry Brown (left, with student Chris Armstrong) on what the cuts might mean.

Later in the year, Liz Proctor wrote a fascinating profile on Brown, who was retiring as Whitireia Journalism’s radio tutor.

On the last Sunday of the month, a number of NewsWire reporters were called out for duty on Wellington’s South Coast following a major tsunami alert.

They found most people just got on and did what they normally did. It was “the tsunami that wasn’t”.

MARCH started with a story by Brenda Cottingham about people spreading cremation ashes on rose beds in the Capital’s botanical gardens, with head gardener Rachael Solomon saying she was concerned about the chemicals used for embalmment having a high concentration of phosphate.

It can also kill the roses, she said in Brenda’s story, which was later picked up by NZPA and published in most of the country’s news media.

Whitireia video tutor Stephen Press won the 2010 ‘Best of’ International section awarded by the American website, His entry beat 400 clips entered worldwide, with the website tabelling him “a camera god”.

orcaMAIN3Some stunning shots of orcas were captured by Samantha Ives when she reported on the sighting of a pod in Houghton Bay.

The same reporter also provided a picture- story of an autopsy of a baby orca at Te Papa by scientists from around the globe.

March also saw graduation for the 2009-10 diploma course, with 25 grads heading out to a much improved job market. Within weeks, most were employed.

VIDEO – JOURNO GRADS: Graduates of the Whitireia journalism diploma get their qualifications from Whitireia Community Polytechnic CEO Don Campbell at the graduation ceremonmy in Porirua.

Lee Stace (now working for Rugby News) produced a detailed profile on legendary rugby photographer Peter Bush after the launch of Bush’s autobiography.

modelMAINAPRIL came and one of the most-read stories was by George Dagg, who wrote about Dunedin twins Nellie and Elza Jenkins following their dreams of a modelling career in New Zealand’s Top Model television series.

The month ended with a tragedy on ANZAC day, with the downing of a New Zealand Air Force helicopter at Pukeroa Bay, a story reported by Tanya Woods. Tanya was in Otaki to report on the day’s remembrance service when news of the crash came in.

ScottStories in MAY and JUNE ranged from a rare burial at sea, cartoonists offending some in the Jewish community by depicting the  Prime Minister with a big nose (both by Greg Ford), to one by Sarah Cullen about Wellington boy racers claiming to have caught on to police strategies to close their circuits down.

An in-depth investigative feature on Wellington’s “under belly” world of prostitution was produced by Tasha Black.

HarbourMAIN 1 topAnother investigative feature by Catherine McGregor covered the pollution problems in Porirua Harbour, her story inspiring a similar piece in the Dominion Post.

After graduating, Catherine, who won the diploma programme’s North & South Award for best feature writing, scored a job on Aucklands Metro magazine.

In JULY, a NewsWire team produced a video of the All Whites parade in Wellington after the team returned from the World Cup, with thousands lining the streets and fans climbing on cars, walls and even rubbish trucks to get a good view.

On AUGUST 16, the Dominion Post’s  front page lead was about the Whitireia Independent Student Association’s executive council allegedly mis-appropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars of  student  funds.

NewsWire reporters were immediately sent to the main campus in Porirua, where they shot video and interviewed a number of people who said they were responsible for alerting police and media to the goings on.

SUMMARY5Other NewsWire reporters were busily checking online social media sites to find information about the people accused of wrongdoing.

NewsWire also reported on a private member’s bill before Parliament that would make membership of student associations voluntary.

Coverage dominated the NewsWire home page for several days.

The question of what happened to the money  is still not resolved, as the association’s financial books are being investigated by auditors before police make a decision about whether there is a criminal case to answer.

The student body has since elected a new executive and is working with Whitireia Community Polytechnic management to ensure there is better accountability.

bernie NEW MAINIn the midst of  the challenge to find new and different stories about the Christchurch earthquake, SEPTEMBER saw one of Whitireia’s journalism staff being honoured.

First-year tutor Bernie Whelan (right) won an academic scholarship from New Zealand and Australian journalism educators to attend and present a paper on newsroom mentoring to the annual Australian conference in Sydney.

Nicole Bennik wrote about a Petone policeman who saved a man by diving off the end of the wharf and dragging him out of the tide.

The story was sent back to the policeman’s family in Scotland, where it appeared in the local paper, the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald.

NewsWire reporters made a feast of the leadup to the triennial local body elections, producing dozens of stories about candidates and issues.

OCTOBER 9 saw Celia-Wade Brown close to being elected as Wellington’s mayor (she later went on to take it with special votes).

The final polling day was covered live by NewsWire reporters Nicole Bennik and Aaron van Delden. with MJ Hicks and Danielle Norman providing telling photos of outgoing mayor Kerry Prendergast and her supporters as the bad news mounted.

WellyMayor MAINOctober 20 dawned very early for tutors and students, with some starting at 4.45am to provide sustained “coverage” of a national civil defence exercise predicated on a supposed tsunami alert.

Whitireia was later thanked in Parliament by the CD Minister, John Carter, although the accolade was slightly spoiled by his inability to pronounce our name.

meerkat 75The month also saw a story by Jonathan Chilton-Towle reporting on the British Army’s newest recruit – a cardboard cut-out meerkat called Octavious Hunt (left).

And Hannah Butler’s story on the plight of disabled people in office buildings in an emergency made the lead in both NewsWire and The Wellingtonian.

Summary 7.jpgIn NOVEMBER, Gordon Barrell reported on the ashes of Wellington Cannon Society member AK Goss being shot out of 20 cannons on Wellington’s waterfront (right), an event picked up by the Dominion Post and TV1.

Samantha Ives found a heart-warming story (from a post on Facebook) about a boy whose trampoline was stolen –  and returned a few days later after he put a despairing sign up outside his house.

The Dominion Post used that story on its Capital Day page, as tramp FEATUREwell as one from Owen Winter on Magic, a game that is sweeping the world.

On November 11, NewsWire reporter Nita Blake-Persen went down to the Manners Mall project with a tape measure, after suggestions from observers that the new bus lane would be too narrow for buses to pass safely.

Well bus graphic NWPEDESTRIAN DUDE: There was some LOL in the NewsWire newsroom over the man depicted in this graphic. It was the only suitable one to be found on ClipArt.

Nita’s story appeared simultaneously in The Wellingtonian and as NewsWire’s lead, and started a tirade of letters to the newspaper – and much-increased media coverage about the new bus system.

Since that story, three people have been injured by buses, and the city council, the bus company and the drivers’ union have been meeting to decide what to do about it.

Video producers – Nita Blake-Persen and Grace Ackland. Reporter – Aaron van Delden.


Lydia Chen – pictured here with Rachael Holmes (left) and Alice Petrie – is a reporter for the English language Shanghai Post.

She  spent the month with Whitireia Journalism, ending her stay with a perceptive view of what lies beneath NZ’s tourism image of harmony and stunning scenery.

November also brought news that next year Whitireia Journalism will become one of the country’s largest media schools, launching a new Radio Journalism Diploma to join its other two programmes, the Certificate in Multimedia Journalism and the National Diploma in Journalism.

The journalism and publishing schools will be joined at the Wellington city campus in Cuba St by the recently acquired NZ Radio Training School and the polytech’s creative writing school, to become the Whitireia NZ Media Training Centre early next year.

Whitireia Journalism also heard from Fairfax Media NZ that we will in future be included among the approved journalism schools for the company’s internship training scheme.

This welcome news means people wanting to study journalism at Whitireia can now apply for the full fee refund (on completion), work experience at Fairfax and employment with the company that come with the 15-to-20 internships granted each year.

Whitireia was excluded when Fairfax launched the scheme in 2006 because its editors felt the school failed to deliver. News that the editors have changed their minds is most welcome, says Journalism Programme Leader Jim Tucker: “It’s the final jewel in the crown for the rebuilding programme we set in place in 2007.”

Simmons-RitchieMAINDECEMBER saw the announcement that Daniel Simmons Ritchie (right) – top student for the last diploma course and now reporting for the Wairarapa Times-Age – has been awarded a scholarship by Asia:NZ Foundation to work for a media outlet in Asia.

During the diploma, Daniel produced an in-depth look at NZ’s magazine industry.

Sabrina Dankel – a German exchange student who visited Whitireia Journalism for a day in 2009 and stayed on to achieve both the National Certificate in Journalism and the National Diploma in Journalism (Multimedia) – reported in from London, where she is working for a rock magazine.

Our last lead story of the year was Hanna Butler’s interview with investigative journalist Nicky Hager on the implications of WikiLeaks being closed down.

Staff changes

Sadly, the end of the year has seen the departure after three years of one of the journalism school’s most effective tutors, Virginia McMillan, who is going back to a busy freelance journalism career.

Virginia was known as a brilliant editing tutor by the students of three diploma courses. She was  the staffer who kept the school well up to date with new media.

She – and her cellphone’s consistent chirps that went on all day from her Twitter network – will be sorely missed.

Bernie Whelan, who delivered the six-month certificate in its first two outings this year, will move to the diploma to replace Virginia, while Capital Times editor Rebekah Burgess will join the staff in January to take the certificate.

A new tutor to teach radio journalism will start early next year to prepare the new radio diploma for its launch on April 4.

Stephen Press and Carl Suurmond will return next year to team up again on video reporting, as will long-serving and highly successful shorthand tutor Destina Munro.

FOOTNOTE: After a couple of years of having the online field to itself, Whitireia can no longer claim to be the only journalism school  with its own news website (NewsWire).  The school at Southern Institute of Technology in Invercargill has recently launched a site that looks remarkably similar.

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  1. Hello Newswire team,

    congratulations on a wonderful 2010 year – we here at the Peter Arnett School of Journalism at SIT in Invercargill salute you and your website – and thank you for being one of the inspirations behind the launch of our own inSITu student news website. Here’s to a great 2011.

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