The Incredible Multiverse of NZ Journalism
There's a very strange thing that happens in New Zealand journalism - and it happens a lot
Someone call Dr Strange or Ke Huy Quan — New Zealand journalism has slipped into the multiverse.
I first noticed I’d slipped into my own timeline — separate to the rest of New Zealand — when 1News reported on an independent review being launched into Arise Megachurch:
This was the lead story one 1News on April 14, and breathlessly reported two things:
That interns were being mistreated.
That Arise Church had launched an independent review into allegations that interns were being mistreated.
What the story failed to talk about was why Arise Church had launched that enquiry. Spoiler alert: They hadn’t decided to do this review out of the blue.
They decided to do it because Webworm had already reported that interns were being mistreated back on April 4… 10 days earlier:
This wasn’t a giant surprise — because New Zealand newsrooms have this very unique thing where they hate crediting other outlets or people for the stories they’re reporting on.
Instead, they almost act like they are in another dimension altogether; another universe. The universe occupied by 1News on April 14 existed in an alternate timeline where Arise Church had decided — out of the blue — to examine their own abhorrent behaviour.
In the universe Webworm existed in — and Webworm readers existed in — Arise Church had no alternative but to launch an enquiry, because Webworm (me and co-writer Hayden Donnell) had written about the disgusting ways they were treating people.
The 10 Day Delay
The 10 day delay between our reporting and 1News’ lead story on the 6pm news would become a pattern over the following month.
As Webworm reported various allegations, it would usually take between 10 and 14 days for that same story to be reported by the likes of 1News, The Herald, Stuff or Radio New Zealand.
The pattern was so established by the time we hit “send” on the story about senior Arise staffer Brent Cameron getting his genitals out, we were waiting for the report to appear elsewhere within 10 to 14 days.
We sent that newsletter out on April 27.
Yesterday, 19 days after our story (a new record) — that same narrative appeared on Radio New Zealand:
This is what RNZ reported yesterday, on May 15:
“During a night in Dunedin, he claims that while sharing a room with the young man, Brent Cameron […] chased the intern around the hotel room until the man locked himself in the bathroom to get away.
Matthew claims Brent Cameron did not let the intern forget about the night, often saying to him ‘we will always have Dunedin’.”
This is what we had reported back on April 27:
Then at a hotel in Dunedin, Brent pursued Theo down a hallway. Theo locked himself in a room.
According to one person who was on the tour: “Brent was knocking on Theo’s door singing ‘I was made for loving you Theo’, to the tune of ‘I was made for loving you’ by KISS.”
Webworm understands this incident was referenced repeatedly over the coming years. When Brent saw the victim in person, he would often repeat: “We’ll always have Dunedin [victim’s name]’”
To be clear, this is not plagiarism. In most of these cases, the stories have their own sources and legwork.
The frustration is that the stories do not explain that the story has already been told.
My colleague Dylan Reeve suggested a very easy solve to all of this, over on his Twitter:
“... the event, initially reported on David Farrier's Webworm, was independently verified by witnesses spoken to by RNZ who went on to elaborate about the experience..”
It’s not difficult. Even without a link that would at least feel up front.
An easy solve.
I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but yesterday was so strange I thought it was worth writing about.
To be clear — it’s great these stories are being reported in the mainstream media. Thousands more people are now aware of the awful reality behind Arise Church.
That is hugely important. It adds legitimacy, and Google results start to look like this:
But readers are not getting the full story. They walked away from that 1News report with a warped sense of where that story began. And RNZ readers think it’s new news that Brent allegedly got his penis out, when in fact it had been reported extensively here over two weeks ago.
Some other stray examples:
On April 14, we reported on John and Brent Cameron physically and emotionally bullying Arise Church staff and interns.
10 days later, RNZ reported the same thing. There was no mention of Webworm:
On April 14, we reported on interns being made to do Pastor John Cameron’s gardens.
On April 28th, Newshub reported the same thing — parroting not me, but RNZ.
Told you it was weird.
It’s a simple fix, but New Zealand newsrooms have a very strange relationship with crediting other people’s work. Or acknowledging that other platforms exist.
I remember when I did a live appearance on TV3’s The Project to promote Dark Tourist — I was specifically asked not to mention Netflix. I’m not kidding.
I think there is probably an element of not wanting to alert an audience to another outlet, for fear they might — God forbid — lose readers or viewers.
There is also pressure to get “exclusives”, or what feel like exclusives.
I am not the only one to note this — Newsroom’s Marc Daalder also runs into it:
Perhaps people are just too cowardly to utter the word “Webworm”. Maybe it’s like Candyman. I dare you: “Webworm. Webworm. Webworm.”
The Legal Risk Factor
There is another frustration I wanted to talk about, too.
When you report a story like this, you take on a certain legal risk. That is why this stuff is so hard to report. If it’s not before the courts, whoever publishes the accusations opens themselves up to legal risks. This is why so much crime reporting is from a courtroom. The journalist is safe.
Reporting a story that is not (yet) before the police or the courts is another thing entirely.
It’s scary enough doing this when you’re part of a newsroom. When I first wrote about David D’Amato and his tickling empire, I was employed by 3News, New Zealand. When I got legal threats from both New York and Auckland attorneys, I was shit scared — and there was a staff lawyer on hand!
But with Webworm — it’s just me. If I report that John Cameron laid his hands on someone, or that his brother Brent got his dick out, all the legal risks of making those accusations is on me.
So it’s both frustrating and scary when I report this stuff — and other media don’t touch it for between 10 to 14 days. I understand why, on some level: They need time to verify sources or come up with their own.
But apart from RNZ and The Herald interviewing me about my process, no newsrooms got in touch with me personally so they could further the story. No-one bothered. My contact details are very public — my email is on all my social media accounts, and my DMs are open.
And so I was out in the cold, taking all legal risks on my own.
With all that in mind — having all these stories now on other outlets is great, because it lessens my legal risk. That is a comforting feeling.
But the fact Webworm went first — and has largely been ignored — stings a little more because of this legal aspect.
It’s no great surprise (for anyone watching the excellent Arise Alumni Memes page) that since all this started, John and Brent have both apparently retained legal counsel.
I’d like to note something else: I don’t think this story could have come to light without the format of a newsletter.
Webworm lets me write long-form in a variety of styles — and lets me give space and context to those who are talking to me. There is no word limit.
On top of that, the model of Webworm empowers me: Because monthly or yearly paying members let me afford legal advice, and — perhaps counterintuitively — let me keep this kind of reporting free.
This has always been my intent: The more “important”, public interest stuff stays free — powered by those who can afford to back me. To show them my thanks, they get my more personal newsletters.
To free members: Thanks for reading and spreading Webworm.
To paying members: Thanks for letting me do this: creatively, legally and practically.
And it’s nice knowing that Webworm readers sometimes get their news 10 to 14 days early.
The shining light in all this? As I moaned about this over on Instagram, one man waded in.
The man of my dreams:
Sam Neill is acting royalty — you probably know him as Dr Alan Grant from Jurassic Park.
“Keep up the God work.” Deal.
PS: To RNZ’s credit — after I had a big moan on social media — they added this line to their story:
“Beginning in early April, journalist David Farrier has been reporting in his online newsletter Webworm allegations from ex-members about Arise church and its leadership.”