Hard News by Russell Brown


Media Take: The Future

Normally on a Tuesday morning, I wouldn't be here at my screen. I'd be at the table at Top Shelf Productions for the weekly editorial meeting where we work out what we'll do for the next week's Media Take. But I'm not, because last night we recorded the final episode of the show. There won't be any more Media Take.

Media Take is the third iteration of a programme that began as Media7 on TVNZ 7, where it ran for the five years the channel existed. But while its successor, Media3, was basically Media7 on a commercial channel with a less experienced commissioner, Media Take was always something different.

It was a bicultural show. It takes a second to say the word, but it took us a while after we launched in 2014 to work out what the word meant for us. And I had a co-host: Toi Kai Rākau Iti.

The show had arrived at Māori Television amid politics that were not of our   own making, but in which we were inescapably bound up. We'd been signed off by the former CEO, Jim Mather, who was a friend of our previous productions, but we arrived under new management. The backlash that followed Native Affairs' reporting on the Kohanga Reo National Trust was playing out and some prominent journalists were heading for the exits. And here was us, arriving into it all.

It was tense at times, and it would be fair to say that Toi and I were a little wary of each other. But when we first sat down together in front of the cameras, something became evident: whatever else was going on, Toi and I had chemistry.

And eventually, that chemistry was harnessed into an unusual arrangement:  Toi and I would be together on camera the whole time, and we would jointly conduct all the interviews and panel discussions. There's a reason this format is unusual: it's bloody hard to pull off. I'd only seen it once before, when Guy Espiner and Duncan Garner would team up for an interview at the end of 3rd Degree, and it was terrible.

But the first time Toi and I did it, I don't think we stepped on each other once. We immediately seemed to have a sense of who should speak next, who should lead on a particular take, who should sit back for a bit. It strengthened our relationship, because we relied on each other constantly.

As Phil Wallington, my producer since 2008, suffered health problems and eventually stepped back to advise from the Horowhenua, I became the only journalist on the show. That was frustrating sometimes, and that and the demands of our bicultural mandate meant that often we weren't really a media show at all, but something ... different. At its best – like our show on Māori and the prison system earlier this year, where Tricia Walsh told her story – that something was unique and valuable.

I'm pleased that the last 10 weeks of Media Take, covering a remarkable election campaign and its aftermath, were our strongest period. It's nice to finish feeling you're doing your best work, and I found it very rewarding being part of a Māori political korero every week. Being accepted into that conversation was gratifying and fun.

And really, working in a Māori environment is the privilege I'll take away with me. I depart with a deeper understanding of a distinct Māori worldview. I use more of the reo than I used to, because these now seem the right and natural words for me to use. Ironically, I'm also more cautious with the language, because I know better how much I don't know.

But mostly, I've never worked on a project where I've learned so much from the people around me, simply through them being themselves.

Brioni Gray, who came to us as a shy researcher and grew into a producer. Eugene Carnachan, our researcher and a documentarian in his own right, whose contacts and understanding of various human networks would be the envy of any journalist, but who came from a whole other place. Tipare Iti, whose desire to get ordinary people's voices into the show reached fruition with this year's Alternative Flax feature.

On almost every show we recorded, Piripi Menary was the floor manager, Annie Jorgensen was the studio director and Ted Koopu was holding down Camera One. You don't always get that kind of continuity in a studio show and it was a pleasure getting to know them and their stories. I think a word is due also for Greg Mayor, who was with us only briefly in a rather-too-long line of network commissioners, but who played a vital role in sorting out our roles and identities. ("Russell needs to stop trying to be a white Māori and just be himself," he said, and that was quite liberating. I had been trying too hard.)

There were some pretty good Pakeha on the team too, of course. Including Phil, obviously, and our editor Paul Oremland, who retained his sweet disposition no matter how much work we threw at him. Top Shelf's Vincent Burke, who was always part of the process in a way most EPs aren't. And, because we rely on these people, our unflappable autocue operator Suzie Oliver.

You're probably wondering why we're finishing up. It's complicated, but it's no secret that after nine years of a funding freeze, the demands on NZ On Air's budget are only growing – and they do have to do new things. I understand that audience reach is a deliverable for them and that while we've done quite well this year, Māori Television does not reach many viewers. Basically, I'm grateful NZ On Air allowed the project to survive the defunding of TVNZ 7 in 2013.

Is there a next venture? It's possible, but for now I'd rather focus on closing  this chapter. I greatly appreciate that unlike our fellow TVNZ 7 lifeboaters at Back Benches (who made their last show the night before they got the bad news from NZ On Air), we've had the chance to say goodbye properly on tonight's show. The theme is "The Future".

Toi, meanwhile, will be focusing fully on his new role with Tuhoe, which he's been splitting with Media Take for the past two or three months. It's an inspiring kaupapa, one which aims to develop ways to harness Tuhoe's settlement money to build both business and social structures to look after its people, to make its marae meaningful, active places. I don't think he'd mind me saying that it's maybe not something the Toi of three years ago could have taken on. We all grow and learn.

I have too. More than most, this odd little show has been the product of the people who have made it. I really don't think it will be replicated. And I'm very glad I was there.

Ngā mihi nui. He waka eke noa.


The final Media Take screens at 10.15pm tonight on Māori Television and features Julia Whaipooti, Leonie Hayden, Rachel Stewart and Dan Taipua. An additional "open floor" discussion will be available on demand here when the programme concludes and in an extended version of the show at 11.30am on Sunday.

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