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SocietyDecember 23, 2020

A year like no other


The Spinoff was in mortal peril in late March, before its members came to the rescue. Managing editor Duncan Greive takes a look at what those members made possible in this most memorable year.

Illustration and design by Ezra Whittaker and Lauren Maree Stewart.

I’m writing – exhausted and, if I’m entirely honest, with a freshly poured whisky beside me – to try to sum up the boiling intensity of 2020. We started the year with that “fuck 2019” energy, and within a couple of months were begging to have it back. There were literal sleepless nights, as we met an epic business challenge while working on the most important journalistic assignment of our lives. I remember spending a lot of time staring, dumbfounded, at spreadsheets that provided entirely rational analyses of our prospects. They looked like we might sneak through to October before we turned the lights out for good.

Then you came along. While we were lucky to get some extra support from our corporate partners, it was our members who made the difference. They came in when we needed them most and together pulled us out of that death spiral, giving us a glimpse of a sustainable media organisation for the first time in our six-year existence. I represent that whole team when I thank our members from the bottom of our hearts – we will never forget the generosity shown, during a time when you all were facing your own versions of 2020 terrors.

It’s impossible to show exactly what you made happen – though there are stats below that try – but I thought it would be worth a shot at capturing The Spinoff’s 2020 in five stories.

Any such list must start with Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris, whose work in making sense of Covid-19 had immeasurable impact not just in New Zealand but around the world.

As we covered that pandemic, the challenge was never to forget the human side of the crisis, as Leonie Hayden’s poignant interview with supermarket worker Rosie showed us.

The political year managed to combine high drama with a landslide, and our election night live updates (an element we pioneered during the pandemic and have retained ever since) captured the chaotic energy of it all unfolding.

Aotearoa and its people were at the core of our best feature writing, like this superb example from Nadine Anne Hura.

And we cast a critical eye across the country’s culture throughout 2020, from television, media and music to, of course, biscuits.

2020 also saw us expand our video and podcast catalogue. This has been spearheaded by head of video Amber Easby and newly joined (but no stranger to The Spinoff) podcast manager, Jane Yee.

To pick four examples from the year, Youth Wings (co-funded with NZ on Air) gave us a revealing and often comic window into the campaigns of the younger parties. Scratched (also co-funded with NZ on Air)  shone a light on extraordinary sports people who, due to their gender or ethnicity, missed out on the acclaim they deserved at the time. Coming Home — in partnership with Kiwibank — was our first highly produced podcast, a revealing look into the lives of those New Zealanders who returned home during the pandemic. And Gone by Lunchtime is our beloved politics podcast, expanded to a hilarious and pin-sharp weekly delivery during the 2020 campaign.

For all we made during 2020, the collaboration between our creative director Toby Morris and New Zealand’s most famous microbiologist, Siouxsie Wiles, was without doubt the most impactful.

Their work, across words and indelible images, helped people in New Zealand and around the world understand key concepts to do with Covid-19, eventually leading to an ongoing relationship with the WHO. Perhaps the most iconic and powerful example is an issue of Toby’s Side Eye comic viewed by over 10% of New Zealand’s population.

Toby and Siouxsie were celebrated at the Designers Institute of New Zealand Best Awards with gold and purple pins for the public good award.

2020 also brought us the Justin effect.

In hiring our political editor, Justin Giovannetti (read the story of his epic lockdown journey from Canada to New Zealand), and South Auckland editor, Justin Latif, we produced incredible journalism from the Beehive to Māngere.

A small taste of their superb work this year:

That’s the detail. If we zoom all the way out, here are the big numbers.

These new faces joined The Spinoff team this year

We also farewelled a number of our most beloved staff, most notably founding writer Alex Casey, and Madeleine Chapman, a lion of The Spinoff.

Alex’s farewell came during the early stages of lockdown – on a strange, sad, often very funny Zoom call. We’ll never forget them (and close readers will note they still pop up on site from time to time).

The work we did was fortunate enough to be recognised by our peers, with over a dozen award nominations and multiple wins received at four separate ceremonies. Here are those that we’re particularly proud of, and show the breadth of what The Spinoff is creating. 

NZTV Awards – Best Sports Programme for Scratched
Best Awards – Purple Pin: Design for public good for Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles
Voyager Media Awards – Cartoonist of the Year for Toby Morris
NZ Webfest Awards – Best Director: NZ Factual for José Barbosa

As I finish writing this, my glass is empty, but my heart is full – as obvious and apt a metaphor as any for how many of us are feeling right now.

I remember on an all-staff Zoom, the first virtual Monday meeting of our lives, our talismanic editor Toby Manhire (truly, this man carried us so indefatigably throughout the year) speaking to the collected and frazzled staff of The Spinoff. After checking in on everyone, and giving us our plan for the week, he suggested we write down what we were going through, how we were feeling. It seemed redundant – how could we ever forget it? Yet we did, and as I sit here, late at night with the year’s end a little over three weeks away, I’m so grateful for his leadership – and that suggestion. It’s nice to have a personal time capsule to hold those feverish weeks in mind, for myself, and my whānau.

Yet when everyone at The Spinoff looks back on this year, on how it branded itself into us and changed us both as individuals and an organisation, and that’s the way our members came to our rescue, and made all our work possible.

It’s one aspect of 2020 we didn’t need to write down, and will never forget.

PS If you’ve read this and been moved and are not a member, please consider joining us to help us through whatever 2021 will throw at us – on the other side of the pandemic, issues like climate change, inequality and more will still need to be addressed.

And now a little more about you, our reader. 

Earlier this month we asked our readers how they felt about the year that’s been. Here are those results.

What emoji best sums up your year?
Grimace face emoji at 34.5%
Followed by woozy face at 23.5%
Cool guy face with 16.5%

How would you describe your emotional state right now in relation to Covid-19?
Somewhat concerned at 76%

Was a local business you love severely negatively affected by Covid-19?
34.5% are unsure
33% did not have a beloved business negatively affected
And 32.5% answered yes

In terms of Covid-19, how are you feeling about spending time in public now?
48.5% feel kinda safe and 40.5% are totally fine

55% of you did not pick up a new skill or interest in 2020. But here is a list of what some of you did choose to learn.

Te reo Māori
Singing Hungarian folk songs
Tai chi
Sourdough baking
And pole fitness

Our readers feel the next main challenge to be addressed in NZ is the climate crisis at 54.5%.

And at 71%, the majority of you are feeling slightly optimistic about 2021.

Keep going!