For decades, media failed to properly reflect how modern New Zealand began. The mainstream media perpetuated a coloniser’s view of settlement.
Discussion and debate about the more troubling aspects of our past has been framed by language and assumptions that eschew the indigenous Māori perspective. Roughly 15 per cent of New Zealand’s population identifies as Māori yet their experience of the history and unique worldview has been ignored or excluded.
NZ Made/Nā Niu Tīreni, a major data journalism project by Stuff, decisively broke with that history.
For the first time, a comprehensive record for every historical injustice in the settlement of New Zealand was published in one place, online. This represented hundreds of varied data points, each painstakingly assembled, carefully checked and presented in a simple format, optimised for mobile devices. For every injustice so far redressed, the project offered a precise record of what happened. The sum of it all revealed a stunning picture of widespread and rapid alienation of land, culture and identity.
On the bespoke site created by Stuff specifically for this project, an animated time-lapse powerfully showed how the land was lost in relatively short order. Two animated explainer videos broke down how the Treaty of Waitangi came to be signed and subsequently repeatedly broken.
The heart of the project was a mission to shake the consciousness of New Zealanders about our history.
This project aimed to permanently alter the way New Zealanders think and talk about their history. Specifically, it included:
– A simple, striking presentation of what happened when New Zealand was made.
– A local, factual story of injustice for every corner of the country, embedded within the overall presentation.
– An intensive and confronting series of stories, video and data visualisations to give the history its modern context.
This was designed to lead to:
– Better official recognition of historic injustices, including by investment in education and awareness programmes.
– An increased presence of Māori language, stories and perspectives in mainstream New Zealand culture.
– Increased engagement in Stuff content among Māori.
What makes this project innovative?
The research that informed NZ Made/Nā Niu Tīreni empowered Stuff to state unequivocally that the indigenous people of our country were treated unfairly and unjustly over many decades as New Zealand was made. This was a unique position for a mainstream media publication. Our position was possible as a result of the carefully assembled, detailed factual accounts combining to create a startling broader picture of injustice. We used a time lapse, animated map to show the big picture. We were also able to publish analysis showing that two-thirds of the entire country was bought for the modern equivalent of the price of about three residential properties in Auckland. This flipped the prevailing mainstream media narrative, which typically suggested Māori were benefiting from economic largesse in the settlement process for historic grievances. To deliver the more detailed, local stories that made up the whole, we used our network of local newspapers, our own hyperlocal social media channel, Neighbourly, and the clever re-purposing of technology originally designed to support advertising. Dozens of the breaches individually outlined in the project were presented directly on the Stuff homepage to the audience in the location nearest to where they happened. This geographic targeting strategy dramatically increased engagement by up to ten-fold compared with national, untargeted sells. For example, people in the small town of Thames were presented with the headline ‘The Thames people left landless’, which linked directly to details of the Treaty breach and settlement for Ngāti Hauā, an iwi of 5598 people in the area who were made virtually landless.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
The project rocked the consciousness of New Zealanders about our history. On social media, a comment typical of the feedback came from Ben Thomas, a former senior adviser to the government on Treaty settlements: “Their fantastic Treaty series gave an incredible overview of the history, issues & process of claims and settlements.” In the immediate aftermath of publication, the Government announced new funding to support better commemoration of the New Zealand Wars. Demand for access to Māori language classes spiked. Colonisation is frequently cited and appears to be more readily accepted in discussions about the disproportionate rates of Māori imprisonment, lower educational achievement and poorer health and wellbeing. The project landing page recorded average engagement time six times higher than an average Stuff article page. The dramatic visualisation of land loss, which contributed to this high level of engagement, was requested for re-use by a university, a think-tank and an independent researcher. Stuff has furthered its partnership with Māori TV, the free-to-air broadcaster focused on Māori issues, language and perspectives. Stuff also actively promotes Māori language with a series of stories in a week dedicated to promoting the language.
Source and methodology
The data that informs the landing page was collected from and cross-referenced with official documentation from the New Zealand Government website. Data was often in different forms - often it was necessary to trace back to the original legal documentation that defined a settlement between Māori and the Government. Many of the map outlines used as the basis for the graphics are courtesy of Click Suite, an agency that created a 3D animation of Māori land loss at the He Tohu exhibition at the National Library in Wellington, New Zealand. Additional reporting on the way the Treaty of Waitangi has been discussed in modern politics was achieved using a web scraping script created by Stuff to build a database of every Government speech and press release back to 2003.
The scale of NZ Made/Nā Niu Tīreni posed several technical challenges, including the time-consuming requirement of creating individual map visualisations that have no official source of geolocational data such as shapefiles. We were resourceful in establishing the basis for this work, reaching out to the third party that had produced an exhibit at the National Library, which included a 3D animation on the same topic. This agency generously shared with us their Illustrator working files containing the outlines of New Zealand maps representing Māori land loss, as well as many of the areas of interest in treaty settlements. Using these vector shapes as a starting point, we conducted further thorough research to correct inaccuracies for each map and include new settlements that had been made since the files were made available to us. This involved combing PDFs of official settlement documentation to draw outlines for the areas of interest, and using both Photoshop and Illustrator to standardise the look of all maps. We used an image of the actual Treaty of Waitangi to guide the look of our project, composing a darker aesthetic via Photoshop to highlight the complexity and gravity of the issue. Each map representing Māori land loss or areas of interest in settlements was given the same treatment. We built the landing page for this project in HTML, CSS, and JS, using Angular.js to display information quickly and implement best UX practices to ensure user-friendliness, as well as to encourage further exploration of the topic. As a tiny editorial development team, we do not have the resources to rely on full-feature backend services for data-driven projects like NZ Made/Nā Niu Tīreni. We worked around this limit by using an add-on on our main Google Spreadsheet that sent the data directly to our servers, so our journalists, often collaboratively, could update the data as often and quickly as needed and it would reflect live on the page.
Andy Fyers, data editor John Hartevelt, project editor Suyeon Son, designer and developer Reporting by Carmen Parahi, Tony Wall, Florence Kerr, Brad Flahive Animated video by Kathryn George and Brad Flahive Visuals by Ross Giblin, Simon O’Connor, Chris Skelton, Chris McKeen, Rosa Woods, Christel Yardley Additional reporting by Deena Coster, Amanda Saxton, Joel Ineson, Thomas Manch, Harrison Christian, Elton Smallman, Paul Mitchell, Ruby Macandrew