Rachel Smalley: A trip back through her journalism career

Rachel Smalley announced on Friday she was leaving Newstalk ZB.
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Rachel Smalley announced on Friday she was leaving Newstalk ZB.

Journalist Rachel Smalley has been a fixture of our airwaves and screens for 20 years.

Since graduating from Wellington Polytechnic, she's travelled widely to report for television and radio.

On Friday, she announced she was leaving NZME station Newstalk ZB. She says she's leaving to pursue opportunities in the corporate world, which could mean her days as a journalist are done.

We thought we'd tease out some of the common threads of her 20-year career.

Journalist Rachel Smalley talks about her experiences in Syria during an event in Timaru in 2016.
Daisy Hudson

Journalist Rachel Smalley talks about her experiences in Syria during an event in Timaru in 2016.

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VOICE OF THE WORLD'S DOWNTRODDEN

I'm sure the thing most people think of when they think of Smalley's career is her work reporting from conflict zones around the world, and in particular refugee camps.

Most recently – just last year – she filed compelling reports on the Syrian refugee crisis for World Vision. Smalley visited refugee camps in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where she watched as Syrians fleeing their country's bloody civil war were turned away at the border.

Upon her return, she toured the country speaking about her experience and raising money – $1.2 million in total – for World Vision's Forgotten Millions campaign.

It wasn't the first reporting Smalley had done on the Syrian crisis either – she visited the Middle East in October 2013 as well.

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In June 2012, she reported on the starvation facing refugees in camps in Mali, Africa. In 2011, she was helicoptered into Bamiyan, Afghanistan, to catch up with New Zealand troops serving there. She'd tried to visit in 2008, but had been unable to leave the capital, Kabul, as the roads were too dangerous.

STRAIGHT NEWS

Another theme of Smalley's career has been a commitment to hard news. She's always been a journalist, rather than a presenter.

Unlike some of her contemporaries, she's never hosted one of those "light" breakfast current affairs shows, like TVNZ's Breakfast or the now-defunct Sunrise.

When Smalley did do a morning show, it was the hard news Firstline on TV3, which she hosted from March 2011 to August 2013.

CHAMPION OF WOMEN

Television news can be a pretty male-dominated environment – just ask the paymasters at the BBC.

Smalley hasn't just been unafraid to foot it in this "man's world" – she's consistently been a voice for gender equality.

Take her column in 2015 after John Campbell was hired for RNZ's Checkpoint. "We have a near-monopoly of white male broadcasters who shape our day, who direct our news agenda, who influence our perspectives," she wrote.

She later told NZME: "I know it made people uncomfortable, but I'm going to say it again. Nobody wins if our world is being shaped by the perspective of one gender and one race, irrespective of their politics."

THE GAFFES

No broadcaster gets through 20 years on air without a few moments to forget.

Smalley's career nadir must surely have been in 2014 when, after learning the average weight of Kiwi women was over 70kg, she called them "heifers" and "a bunch of lardos".

Smalley made the remarks during a break after reading a story on how some birth controls weren't effective for women over 70kg. She thought her microphone was turned off.

The remarks prompted widespread outrage, including Broadcasting Standards Authority complaints and calls for Smalley to be sacked. She issued a tearful apology afterwards.

Smalley also earned a stern word from her then-employer, MediaWorks, during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, when she engaged in a war of words on Twitter with former England rugby captain Will Carling.

Recently, her Bengal cats earned the ire of her Piha neighbours for catching birds.

 - Stuff

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