Newsroom’s investigations editor Melanie Reid’s “best reporter” win at Friday’s Voyager Awards is another remarkable achievement in a career full of remarkable achievements.
During her 25 years at TV3, Melanie, or Mel as she is known to her colleagues, won many TV awards – but those awards were mainly fought out by the two big networks – TVNZ and TV3. Last night Mel was competing against the cream of the country’s print and online journalists.
Her investigation into MP Todd Barclay’s secret taping of his electorate secretary also saw Newsroom win “best story.”
When TV3 axed its current affairs programme 3D at the end of 2015 Mel took a bit of break. She deserved it. Current affairs television is a hard slog and Mel had been in the thick of it for most of her working life.
She had broken more big stories and scored more big interviews than any of her contemporaries.
Exclusives with Peter Ellis, David Bain, Gay Oakes and Vicky Calder made her one of the few TV reporters (as opposed to presenters) who viewers could recognise and name.
Mel could have rested on her laurels, perhaps made some documentaries that interested her, but instead she joined Tim Murphy, Bernard Hickey and me in setting up Newsroom.
The first thing she did was furnish our office. She quickly found some near new ex-Fonterra office furniture and purchased it for next to nothing. Mel has always had an entrepreneurial streak and it proved particularly handy in her early days at cash-strapped TV3.
She always seemed to be able to conjure up a deal with a helicopter pilot or a hotel manager that kept us in the race against TVNZ news.
I first met Mel when she was a 19-year-old reporter in TV3’s Christchurch newsroom. I had just returned from working in Australia to be the Christchurch bureau chief for the fledgling network.
Unbelievably, I tried to have her fired. I thought she was “flighty” and not what a nascent news service needed.
I was wrong. Mel Reid was exactly what we needed.
If there is such a thing as gut instinct then Mel has it. Even as a junior reporter she could see a big story a mile off and better still she knew how to get it.
Exposing and righting injustices is often a motivation for the best journalists. Mel is one of those journalists.
Less expected are Mel’s other passions. She has a love affair with the South Island – its people, its landscape, its beauty and remoteness. She also loves to beat the odds. Tell her she can’t do something and it doubles her determination.
I saw this play out one day when filming a story for TV3’s eclectic, cultish and pioneering late night programme Nightline. Mel had been pushing for us to do a story on the Glenorchy races, a colourful picnic event held in a beautiful setting at the tip of Lake Wakatipu.
To make it into a Nightline story there had to be more than just some rich visuals. Reporter participation was in vogue at the time.
Mel decided she would ride in the Galloping Cup. This was a serious race with some good horses and amateur jockeys. I didn’t think it was a good idea.
“Don’t worry, I can ride,” Mel told me and “I can get a horse that is okay”.
Mel settled her horse just off the pace and riding hands and heels powered home to get within half a head of the winner.
She hopped straight off the horse, looked past the camera that was filming her and said to me, “I would have won if I had carried a whip”.
Mel has got many of the big stories by showing that same competitive, determined, never-say-die attitude.
Tim and I asked her recently where her relentless drive came from.
The answer explained a lot about Mel.
“When I was growing up in Queenstown and going to pony club I was bullied. I couldn’t afford a flash horse, I had to get a brumby from the back country and break it in myself. We weren’t rich enough to have a horse float so I had to walk my horse for hours to get to pony club. It made me determined to show those #%&*ers that I could ride and be better than them.”
Mel also credits her parents for imbuing her with a winning mentality. Her father Lindsay Reid played rugby for Otago in the 1950s and was also a good cricketer. Her mother Jill was a strong feminist who encourage Mel to “walk the walk” rather than talk it up.
But you don’t break the big stories like Mel has over the past 12 months just by being competitive and determined. It takes more than that.
The people who provided Mel with information on the Barclay case, the free-range egg substitution story, the Russell McVeagh saga and Labour Party youth camp allegations trusted Mel to get it right and make a big enough impact to force change.
She delivered on those stories, as she has on so many other occasions.