Last week Te Ara bade farewell to our staunch administrator and wonderful front-of-house, Angela Mitchell; on Tuesday I suffered the embarrassment of being sent into retirement with overly generous speeches, nice wines and a very funny blog; and yesterday we farewelled five more of the Te Ara team who have helped create this taonga.
I have been in continuous employment for 42 years, but the last half-dozen have been by far the best – not just because the work on Te Ara has been so engrossing, but because we have had the most extraordinary team of people. All have believed passionately in the Te Ara project; all have been complete professionals and high performers; all have given everything to produce the very best website possible. I cannot remember a cross word between anyone – there has been a focused energy by a group all working towards a common end, and they have done their job magnificently. It has been hard work, but also fun from start to finish, with many, many laughs along the way. It has been a privilege, and a very unusual experience, to be part of such a team.
The five who were farewelled today have all made a huge contribution to Te Ara in their own individual way. They are (with the most recent first):
- Andy Palmer, who has been primarily employed as a copyright officer. This is one of those back-room jobs which gets little public credit or glory, yet makes an enormous difference to the integrity and quality of the site. Andy has been scrupulous in his job – accurate, very sensitive towards the concerns of those supplying images or films, and tenacious at tracking down copyright holders. He has also contributed in other ways – as a fine writer (with half a dozen blogs to his credit), a brilliant photographer and the house expert on popular music of the last 40 years.
- Philothea Flynn shared the copyright role with Andy. She did a superb job. Constantly on the phone, she developed excellent rapport with photographers, iwi and anyone with rights over images or films. Phil had a great sense of the moral rights of people, and was outstanding in negotiating images in stories dealing with sensitive personal issues such as abortion, adoption and lesbian lives. That our music stories in the latest theme are so well enriched with musical clips is because of the stalwart work of Phil and Andy clearing so many rights. Phil has been a stalwart advocate for Creative Commons and a active participant in Manatū Taonga’s Māori community.
- Helen Rickerby rapidly became the lynchpin of Te Ara’s production process, understanding the peculiarities of our Drupal content management system like no-one else, even the developers. She was also, more than anyone, Te Ara’s social media voice – being single-handedly responsible for this Signposts blog, moderator of comments on images, an active participant in our Twitter pool and also speaking for Te Ara on Facebook. Helen has always been calm and helpful – nothing has been too much trouble. She is warm, supportive and very funny - and is also a distinguished published poet, a blogger and a great mixer of punch!
- Janine Faulknor took over from Shirley Williams in charge of the resource team, which researched images, sound files, video clips, etc. She quickly built trusting relationships with our major providers and established new agreements with TVNZ, the New Zealand Film Archive, Archives New Zealand and Getty Images. She provided most of the resource research for our Places entries, and operated the mouse expertly at our regional launches. An expert on television and popular music (at least judging by her expertise in the Dom Post quiz!), she provided brilliant clips for the entries on television and Māori and television. Janine also rapidly proved herself an outstanding manager – well-organised, reliable and totally supportive of her team, yet capable of being tough if always fair. So when I wanted to step back from the management of the team she took over and has done a superb job – and she is also a really nice person!
- Ross Somerville leaves after a very long and impressive career in reference publishing. He was in charge of the editing and production team at the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and established the incredibly high standards of editing achieved by that magnificent work. So when I was given the task of developing Te Ara, I had no hesitation in inviting Ross to Join me. Together we worked out the core principles of Te Ara – the length of entries, their structure, the nature of topic boxes and further sources etc. Ross oversaw the selection of our web developers and technology partners. That the look and elements of a Te Ara entry have lasted so well is a huge testament to the care and intelligence he bought to the task. Ross has an amazing eye for verbal infelicities and inconsistencies, and his final reads of our stories have improved them immensely. He was also a great manager, admired with warm affection by the people who reported to him for his loyalty and knowledge. Ross is also refreshingly cynical, a great tease and very funny. He has been really important in helping to organise the good times which have kept us all sane.
So it is with great sadness that we see these five outstanding people leave Manatū Taonga. They can do so knowing that they have each, in their own way, contributed enormously to both the success of the project and the huge enjoyment we have all had in helping to build Te Ara. Travel well, you five, and I hope you will join me in looking back on the last few years of work as among the high points of your very different lives.