Last night at the Voyager Media Awards in Auckland, The Spinoff was named website of the year. Managing editor Duncan Greive is still in shock.
It’s 8.43am and I’ve had I’m guessing ~4 hours sleep, but who in the world needs that because The Spinoff has won website of the year at the Voyager Awards. It’s a funny name for an award, a point driven home when someone asked me last night if it was for our designers and developers. Which would be totally fair: Jana and Katie and Tina and Simon, legends every last one of them. But it’s not, website of the year has become the big one at the awards – it’s the last team award handed out, the only one for which we’re all eligible, the one I was certain we would never win.
Just to be nominated was truly a thrill: the other nominees were the two biggest news sites in the country, groaning with the country’s best and brightest, and Newsroom – an enterprise set up by three absolute lions of New Zealand journalism, doing the good work every day.
Then there’s us. And what even are we? Sometimes I struggle to answer; today I’ll try.
The Spinoff was founded less than five years ago, with extremely constrained ambitions: we were a TV blog, with a single (and beloved) (hi Lightbox) sponsor to whom we only owe our very existence. A different beasty, a different business model, not many paying attention.
I had for a while wondered about why there was no major site in New Zealand doing the kind of smart and irreverent writing I found myself reading and wanting to read. What Grantland and Vulture and a bunch more were doing which made culture and social issues and sports into some kind of high-low soup which could contain great feature writing and elevated listicles.
Not long after we started, driven by the brilliant, hyper-modern writing of our patient zero Alex Casey, I realised that’s what we were up to.
A year in and we blew it out – recruited a bunch of new sponsors and writers, all agreeing to go along with us on this voyage into the true unknown, with a small but vital audience willing us on. Now, somehow, it has us here, winning this thing – the biggest team prize in New Zealand journalism. I type it, I don’t really believe it.
Honestly, corny (shout out the cornies!) as it sounds, it really is a team prize. People kept coming up to me last night and saying how proud I should be, and I was 3-5 feet off the ground from that point on, so: yeah. But I’m truly just proud of our people. They did this. They own this.
Coming into The Spinoff, we none of us looked like a lot. Some great writers who’d had some awesome gigs, a lot more of us who’d sorta hung on some concentric circle of the fringes of journalism, or just been outside looking in.
But give us an inch, man. I remember Don Rowe walking into this ratty dilapidated hell-hole in unrenovated Britomart, leaky and bird shit-ridden, and agreeing that he could clean it out and then become our second staff writer, on two whole days a week. I remember Catherine McGregor, fresh off of Metro, legitimising us with coming on to help edit the site. I remember having coffee with Toby Manhire feeling like a date as I gradually crept up to the line of asking him if he’d one day, y’know, maybe write about politics for us.
I remember a wintry ramen with Leonie Hayden when she talked about honouring Te Tiriti in journalism on The Spinoff, when she was still at Mana, and the phrase hit me in the chest. I remember Scotty Stevenson coming in week after week and delivering everything but an invoice for his time. I remember Simon Day arriving a ball of energy, believing in the mission more than anyone inside it did. I remember Kerryanne Nelson leaving Lightbox to come work for us, a symbolic breathing off life into the project’s viability.
I remember Mad Chapman writing the email of my life, one that was oddly formal yet hairs-on-the-neck confident: “I had been leaning towards comedic writing over journalism but after reading The Spinoff I realise that it is indeed possible to do both. I am looking for any opportunity to experience writing for a respected news source.”
“Do both”. “A respected news source”. All we could dream of being. A place which was different to the mainstream of New Zealand journalism, with its own values and style and tics. But one that unabashedly loved the trade and the form, and desperately wanted a seat at the table. I remember every single person who made that happen. Every writer and editor and videographer and salesperson and freelancer and all their partners and kids who sacrificed on this. Every client who took a deep breath and said yes to something different. Every audience member who shared and commented and tweeted and made us feel like what we were doing mattered – even when we got it wrong, especially when we got it wrong.
This is for all of you, from a still half-cut dude who gets to live his weird dream with his best friends (shame lol but true) every damn day. It only means everything. I can’t wait to keep doing it.
Other wins for The Spinoff at last night’s awards:
Best Opinion Writing, Humour/Satire: Madeleine Chapman
Best Artwork/Graphics: Toby Morris
Best Reviewer: Charlotte Grimshaw (joint winner)
Best Single News Story/Scoop: Madeleine Chapman (joint winner)
A postscript, from Duncan:
I honestly can’t thank the whole NZ writing/journalistic industrial complex enough for the way they’ve welcomed us in. People senior and junior at other organisations have so often been incredibly kind to us, even when we have been hella shits to them. It’s super important to note that everything from The Bulletin on down at The Spinoff could not exist without the powerhouse work done every damn day by the whole community. I feel honoured to be a tiny part of it. To every winner and every nominee, massive love from your annoying mates at The Spinoff.
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