In the Loop: Top journalists and TV star on changing attitudes towards the media in New Zealand

“They tracked me down and got to her.”

Newstalk ZB chief political reporter Jason Walls isn’t a stranger to negative online comments, but when trolls left nasty comments about him on his partner’s photos it hit too close to home.

“Most of the time I just kind of brush what they say off, it doesn’t affect me at all. But when it went through her it kind of got me quite upset.”

As a result, Walls told the Herald’s In the Loop podcast he’s had to scrub her from his social media, which he describes as a tragedy as she’s someone he wants to enjoy milestones with online, which he’s now unable to do.

“We had a bit of a chat about privacy and how we can have contingency plans in case something happens.”

Walls first noticed the change when the 1pm press conferences started last year, where he says everyone was scared and looking for someone to criticise.

“In the very early days, where the Government was held up as doing the right thing, the media were the ones to blame because we were challenging this complete response.”

This, he notes, stepped up again recently as vaccine mandates become more prominent and some people think the media are being paid off by the Government.

“Which if anyone has read any of ZB’s coverage they would probably challenge that fact.”

The rise in anti-media sentiment isn’t unique to Aotearoa, but as the virus spreads throughout the country many in the media are bearing the brunt of frustrations.

TV reporters are often on the front lines, highly visible with signwritten cars, large microphones and high-profile faces.

In recent weeks a 1News cameraman was attacked by anti-vaxxers while filming a vaccination event in Greymouth and a Newshub reporter was heckled by a member of the public as she was setting up for a story.

1News political editor Jessica Mutch McKay has developed a thicker skin throughout her 15-year career as a journalist.

“The negative comments tend to be online. I think people tend not to say things to your face that they would perhaps say online. Most of the time if I get stopped it will be to say oh you know, ‘thanks for this’, or ‘doing a good job’ or ‘keep keeping them honest’.”

As a junior reporter, Mutch McKay says she was taught to pick a small group of people whose opinion she cares about and to listen to them.

“To not let other comments from other people, particularly strangers, really sink in or affect you too much and having that from quite early on really helped me not stress too much about the negative stuff.”

While she doesn’t usually have time to trawl comments online, she says when she was working on air while pregnant, comments about her weight came in.

“I think that was something that got to me a little bit. But I guess it’s something I got used to over the years.”

Like Walls, Mutch McKay says since Covid-19 she has noticed a shift.

“We’ve kind of got to the gnarly end of vaccinations where mandating has come in and people who are feeling really strongly about that are, I guess, targeting the media as they see us as part of the Government.”

She told the Herald it was fair to say things had ramped up and on the street people had been yelling criticisms out about 1News over the past few weeks.

“When people are feeling angry or frustrated, about the media, and their view of the media being pro-vaccine, then they’re much more likely to target you.”

Mutch McKay told the Herald when people see the 1pm press conferences they may think journalists are being “really aggressive”, but it’s something they do all the time.

“You usually see the sausage at the end rather than the process.”

On a personal level, Mutch McKay says she’s had a lot of years to get used to it, and it doesn’t keep her up at night, but she can see the “bombarding” of it would become a lot.

Mutch McKay’s advice to fellow journalists who may be on the end of online haters is to “shake it off”.

Head of NZME’s cultural partnerships, Lois Turei, led the launch of Kahu, the Herald’s digital Māori news platform, earlier this year and says Covid has brought out the best and the worst in people.

Turei told the Herald a lot of racist slurs come in indirectly.

“And it’s mostly actually around a really high level of resentment of what is perceived to be Māori getting more than what is fair.”

These comments can be “soul destroying” to reporters, and she says it wears away at their wairua.

“It’s really important our reporters, particular our younger reporters, know they have a korowai, a cloak around them to support them.”

• In the Loop is available on iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. New episodes come out every Friday morning.

• You can find more New Zealand Herald podcasts at or on iHeartRadio.

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