This week’s social media viral video was bleaker than usual – a wasted woman in a garage, looking half dead. It took The Hui to bring her to life – and in so doing lay bare some of the functionless duplication in our contemporary media, says Duncan Greive.
All week we’ve seen the footage. A woman, swaying erratically in a cluttered garage, making a series of moaning sounds and looking deeply fucked up. She’s present in the video, but also absent – both through her vacation of her senses and the way the coverage shaped her as this tragic casualty, a lesson rather than a human.
Sunday morning, The Hui changed all that. She now has a name, Ngaetu Grover, and is speaking for herself rather than being discussed as an object. We learn about her early life, her idyllic “kura days”, the loving, stable family she came from. We learn of her enthusiasm for kapa haka, see her performing, hear about the way she looked out for her brother – the same one who would eventually post that footage in despair for her.
Then we were introduced to a critical juncture in her life: the birth of a child at just 16, while she was still in high school. “It just felt like you had to grow up so fast,” Grover says. The strain of raising a child while still a child herself took a familiar toll. Her descent into addiction, her disappearing for weeks and months, the theft charges she faced at the Waitakere district court this week. But all that came later – after we had gotten to know her as a person, rather than a victim or statistic.
It felt different to the way this kind of story might be covered elsewhere. The emphasis on her whānau, the assumption that Grover was fundamentally decent, despite her current situation – this was journalism which felt like it epitomised The Hui’s mission of being “Māori current affairs for all New Zealanders”. A Māori journalism, fusing the core cultural values of Māori and of journalism. It’s what they do, every week.
This is not a critique of the previous reporting – simply to note that what The Hui does feels different. It expands the range of what we see, and thus gives us a richer and more textured view of one another.
This is something which is becoming harder to find in journalism. At a conference entitled, a little too plaintively, ‘Journalism Still Matters’ at parliament last week, NZME’s managing editor Shayne Currie made a critical point about the current state of news production. He said that the economics of modern journalism demanded that six different versions of the same story be produced. He was arguing, persuasively I felt, in favour of the NZME-Fairfax merger – saying that that resource would be better deployed doing something else.
Ngaetu Grover was a quintessential example of that problem. She appeared on every major news site, rocking back and forth and making those terrifying noises. None of the reporting was bad or cynical – it quoted the Drug Foundation or an academic, giving context to how she got into that state. Each story was broadly similar, a familiar phenomenon which meant that a number of outlets all made the same grave error this weekend regarding Tame Iti’s role in the theft of a Colin McCahon in the ’90s.
This constant need to duplicate stories is one of the key inefficiencies of the current journalistic environment. The same force which ensured that none of the many pieces of reporting was able to give us a different perspective on Grover and her struggles – how they were made, and what might unmake them. That is until The Hui – coming from a different place, with a different imperative – went to air and changed all that.
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