When Words Matter: Te Reo Maori Masthead
Overview of this campaign
To do this justice and properly, we consulted local iwi (tribe) Ngati Toa and Taranaki Whanui, who were incredibly supportive of the idea right from the start. They explained it was impossible to translate our title directly, but would be borne from Maori concepts to reflect our region/capital and us being a newspaper.
The result was Te Upoko-o-te-Ika, which translates loosely as ‘the report from the head of the fish (of Maui)’. It is based on the Maori myth of Maui landing a massive ‘fish’, which eventually turned out to be New Zealand’s North Island. The head refers to both the shape of the North Island’s south, and Wellington being the capital. In short, the capital’s newspaper.
Initially we had planned to run both the English and te reo Maori titles simultaneously, with equal prominence, but we decided against this, because the impact would have been lost in a sea of words.
The Dominion Post title featured in smaller point size in the top right-hand corner. It was accompanied by a piece from the Editor, which explained the change and urged readers to embrace the policy.
We also changed our Saturday masthead to Te Upoko-o-te-Ika Weekend.
We reverted to our English masthead at the end of Matariki but, determined to bring about real change rather than it simply being a nod of tokenism, Te Upoko-o-te-Ika has become a permanent feature, in smaller point size in the top right-hand corner.
Results for this campaign
It’s sad to say, but we were expecting a backlash, or at least a lot of criticism. Instead, we were overwhelmed with calls, emails and an outpouring on social media praising our move.
Wellington Mayor Justin Lester started the ball rolling with a Tweet, which was shared and copied hundreds of times, while many readers also took to social media to voice their support.
Anecdotally, we had an increase in sales, as many people told us they’d buy a copy for “history’s sake”.
The chorus grew to such an extent that we had readers asking, “can you make this a permanent masthead?” We won’t, but we have re-used the te reo masthead for Maori Language Week in September 2018.
Newspapers have long shed the image of being ‘papers of record’. We are shapers and influencers of opinion, and The Dominion Post is immensely proud in taking the lead in this regard.
Did everyone love it? Of course not, and we had eight subscription cancellations with readers saying “we don’t want te reo/Maori in our newspaper”.
No editor likes losing subscribers, but Stuff was comfortable wearing the small losses for doing the right thing.
And that is underpinned by these lines from Justin Lester:
“I can honestly say I have never been as proud of the newspaper, or Wellington generally, when I picked up my copy of the Dom Post that morning.
"Our council meeting that day was a moving occasion. We had many elected members and Iwi members moved to tears because they could sense the importance of the move and what it meant for the future of Maori language and culture in New Zealand.”