For the past 20 years, journalist and E tū member Rebecca Fox has worked at the Otago Daily Times – first as a general reporter covering education, regional council, conservation, and the arts, before joining the features team about six years ago. She now writes for and edits the arts, food and wine, and travel pages.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I grew up in Gore, Southland (a townie not a farmer) and headed to the University of Otago straight out of school to do a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in history and politics. I’d always been keen on journalism so did the University of Canterbury’s Diploma in Journalism and the rest as they say is history. Apart from a couple of years on my ‘‘OE’’ where I worked as a secretary – my shorthand skills were in much demand in the UK and the pay was better – I have worked as a journalist.
How did you get into journalism as a career?
I was encouraged by my English teacher at high school to try writing for the school’s page in the Gore Ensign (back then it was a daily paper) and worked there in my school and then university holidays.
What are your favourite bits about the job and any career highlights?
I’ve always loved telling people’s stories and helping keep people informed about what is happening in their community. You get to meet all sorts of people, from prime ministers to victims of crime, or children on their first day at school. You also get to do all sorts of things you would never do as a ‘‘regular’’ person, such as tracking elusive endangered Haast tokoeka kiwi on bush-clad Rona Island in the middle of Lake Manapouri with Department of Conservation staff.
What do you see as the major challenges facing you and other journalists today?
Where do I start? It is sometimes hard to see the positives for journalists today when you start looking at the bigger picture. The job is made increasingly difficult by the world-wide break-down in the traditional advertising-based model for funding journalism. While the search is on for a way to replace the revenue lost, no-one has come up with the solution yet. So there is less resource to fund the work we do, so there are fewer journalists doing more. Then there has been the rise of disinformation, people relying on unverified sources on social media for their information and their advertising, the rise of artificial intelligence, the claims of media bias and the personal attacks on journalists. Many of those issues have seen experienced journalists leave the industry for better paying and less stressful jobs in public relations and communications. The industry is also struggling to recruit young people to a career that involves shift work, low pay, and a negative perception.
What do you think we need to do to maintain and protect decent journalism in a changing world of media?
Journalists need to stand together and stand up for their profession and its standards. We need to work to encourage greater diversity among our ranks and provide greater support and training for younger members in what is an increasingly demanding and challenging profession yet also a fulfilling, rewarding, and exciting one.
As a journalist, why do you see unionism as important?
A lot of challenges facing the media industry have put journalism and journalism jobs under threat. Being unionised gives us the ability to have a voice at a national level as well as at a local level, to fight for editorial independence, and to protect our pay and conditions when needed, especially in tough times. Members at the Otago Daily Times went on strike recently – the first time since the 80s – to stand up for decent, fair wages and resources for journalists.
Anything other E tū members might be surprised to learn about you?
I met my now husband, Ray Pilley (former E tū South Island Vice President), in Wellington airport on the way to the union conference.