By Sarah-Jane O'Connor 10/04/2019


Last weekend a number of alarming headlines from the USA showed up in my social media feeds.

They’ve continued over the past few days, from Forbes:

Candida Auris: Why This Fungus Is An Emerging Threat

To People.com:

Drug-Resistant Fungus Has Sickened Almost 600 in U.S. and Poses Global Health Threat

And ever the restraint from Jezebel:

We should probably all freak out about this deadly, drug-resistant fungus

The stories stemmed from a New York Times investigation, by Matt Richtel and Andrew Jacobs, detailing the number of cases of Candida auris, a drug-resistant fungus first identified in 2009 that has since spread through many countries, often causing serious illnesses in hospital patients.

What’s most concerning is how difficult the job of reporting on the numerous cases was. As Richtel wrote in a ‘behind the scenes’-style story, “in 30 years, I’ve never faced so tough a reporting challenge”.

“As our reporting continued, we discovered it was common for hospitals, doctors and public health agencies to clam up when it came to talk about their troubles with resistant bugs, though they widely acknowledged the existence of the problem and even encouraged our efforts.”

Any good journalist knows that if no-one wants to talk about a story, there’s definitely a story there. And so, in their reporting, Richtel and Jacobs discovered hospitals were deliberately keeping quiet about the C.auris infections in their wards for fear of being branded with the scarlet letter.

I think we’ll all agree that the system is broken if hospitals can stay mum about potentially-deadly infections in an effort to protect commercial interests. If it’s any consolation, University of Otago’s Professor Michael Baker said that level of secrecy was unlikely to happen here in New Zealand.

The story was just one of many this week that reminded me, again, of why we need a free and fierce media.

Last week we heard about three journalists – Newsroom’s Mark Jennings, Melanie Reid and Hayden Aull – who had been detained in Fiji while reporting on a resort development alleged to be causing environmental damage.

This week, the Fijian Government has revoked the resort’s Environment Impact Assessment approval. Power to your pen, indeed.

Also with Newsroom, Farah Hancock’s diligent reporting on the Eyrewell beetle led to a piece this week examining the ties that bind university researchers when entering into commercial partnerships. I’d suspect most Kiwis would be surprised to find university academics’ hands tied in such a way, considering their “critic and conscience” role.

Then, of course, there’s The Dominion Post journalist Nikki Macdonald’s persistent coverage of the Te Papa restructure with the news on Tuesday that Andrew Stewart would be permitted to remain as an assistant curator after being made redundant then turned down when he applied for the new position.

I hear a lot of people complain about the state of the media, and I always say in response: you’ll miss it when it’s gone. It’s hard to see how else these stories would have come to light without the dogged determination of good journalists.

In any case, it seems timely that the finalists for the Voyager media awards were announced this week: congratulations to all the finalists (and enjoy the party).