The Herald's Tim McCready looks back at the stories and headlines that shaped the front pages of the paper this year.
We had every reason to think this year would be better than 2020. The front page of the New Zealand Herald on January 1 shared that optimism: "With a vaccine rollout and travel bubbles looming, there are signs 2021 is looking up."
And yet here we are, wrapping up another tumultuous year.
So much has happened that it is hard to believe it was early this year that the storming of the Capitol building by Trump supporters took place. The Herald led with 'Democracy under attack' as its cover story on the insurrection as leaders met to ratify the election victory of Joe Biden.
Despite his exit from the Oval Office this year, Trump's face featured on the front pages of the Herald five times over the year (many will be thankful this is significantly down from 15 last year). President Biden had a relatively quiet year, appearing just three times on the covers (compared with 10 last year).
Other significant events that shaped the year and the front pages were the death of Prince Philip in April, the prolonged Samoan democracy crisis in May, the freak tornado in Auckland in June, and the New Lynn supermarket terror attack in September.
Topping the count of cover appearances again this year is Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who featured 42 times – down from 62 in 2020.
Other politicians to rank are Grant Robertson, Chris Hipkins and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer (each appearing seven times), Judith Collins (six times, down from 27 last year) and Christopher Luxon (nine times) with a late surge in front page appearances after becoming National's new leader in November.
The Prada Cup was underway early in the year, followed by the America's Cup in March when Team NZ's battle against Italy's Luna Rossa played out on the front pages. The dramatic races were summarised by headlines leading up to the win: 'Luna Eclipsed', 'One race from glory', then finally 'Signed, sailed, delivered' when Team NZ (along with all of us) could breathe again.
The excitement surrounding the Auld Mug defence saw Team NZ's skipper and helmsman Peter Burling become the most featured sportsperson on the Herald's front pages this year. With 12 appearances, he was ahead of last year's leader, Beauden Barrett, who featured 10 times this year (compared with 26 in 2020).
The other major sporting event to feature on the front pages was the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, held during July and August after a year-long pause.
New Zealand's greatest medals tally gave the Herald plenty of opportunity to showcase sporting (and headline) success, with some of the best including:
- 'Golden hour': marking one of the most extraordinary hours in the country's sporting history. Emma Twigg took gold in the women's single sculls, the women's eight claimed second, and the men's eight won gold.
- 'Seventh Heaven': when the Black Ferns Sevens won gold after beating France in the Women's Sevens final.
- 'Mana Lisa': when Lisa Carrington's two gold medals within 90 minutes catapulted her into Olympic folklore.
Superstar Carrington featured on the front pages of the Herald seven times this year. She won three gold medals at the Games, becoming our most decorated Olympian with six medals.
Other notable sporting faces on the front pages of the Herald this year included Joseph Parker (11 times) and Kane Williamson (10 times), Sam Cane (seven times), Kyle Jamieson (six times) and Lydia Ko (four times).
The dawn of Delta
Of course, the most regular feature on front pages this year was the visitor we never wanted – Covid-19.
Our first brush with Covid's return was in late January, with three people returning positive cases in the community following their managed isolation stay in the Pullman Hotel. Front page headlines 'The waiting game,' 'Stress test,' and 'High anxiety' in the days following captured the mood of the nation at the time.
In early April, 395 days after we closed our borders with Australia, quarantine-free travel with Australia resumed, celebrated with the front page declaring 'Bubble time' – though that was short-lived. 'Frozen bubble' was the headline in early May after flights from New South Wales were paused following two community cases found there.
New Zealand remained Covid-free in late April, when the Herald led with 'Knocking it out of the park' to celebrate one of the world's highest-attended concerts since the pandemic began with about 50,000 Six60 fans at Eden Park.
'Two close for comfort' the Herald declared in June, after a Covid-infected Sydney tourist's whirlwind weekend visit to Wellington forced the capital into alert level 2. This was followed three days later with 'Bubble over,' as the door on quarantine-free transtasman flights was slammed shut after Sydney was plunged into a two-week lockdown.
Then in August, the front page we had hoped not to see. 'The dawn of Delta' marked the beginning of Auckland's longest lockdown, with equally terrifying headlines to follow, including: 'Delta on your doorstep', 'Lockdown Xmas real risk for city' and 'On a Delta tightrope'.
In September, one month after Delta arrived on our shores, NZME and the Herald launched its 90% Project – a campaign to get at least 90 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated by Christmas with the front page declaring a 'Call to arms'.
The 90 per cent target was later endorsed by the Government, with Ardern and director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield stating 90 per cent vaccination coverage would give strong national protection against the virus (Bloomfield featured on the front page six times this year, down from nine in 2020).
The rollout of the vaccine was tracked on front pages over the following months. Super Saturday had a cover packed with faces of politicians, sports stars, media personalities and ordinary New Zealanders – all encouraging vaccine uptake on what became the biggest mass vaccination event in New Zealand history.
As with almost any decision made throughout the pandemic, the opinions of commentators often graced the front pages, with some suggesting the 90 per cent target wouldn't be possible, and epidemiologists called it 'very aspirational'. But by mid-December New Zealand reached the vaccine milestone before the Christmas target.
I am at risk of repeating the prediction on the first front page this year, a New Year brings with it cause for cautious optimism. Events that will undoubtedly dominate the covers in 2022 include the Commonwealth Games, the Women's Cricket and Rugby World Cups, the booster rollout and vaccination in children.
Covid-19 isn't done with our front pages yet, but hopefully by this time next year the worst of the pandemic will be a distant memory.
Breakout box: Emmerson's covers
Cartoons from the Herald's editorial cartoonist Rod Emmerson were featured on several front pages, including:
- 'Lighting the flame' (for the swearing in of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States in January).
- 'V-Day' (depicting a doctor riding a vaccine syringe to earth to mark the start of New Zealand's vaccine rollout in February, beginning with frontline workers).
- 'The bare essentials' (featuring Finance Minister Grant Robertson for Budget 2021 in May).
- 'Kia kaha Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland' (in September as Auckland entered its fourth week of lockdown and was reeling from the terrorist attack in a west Auckland supermarket).
Emmerson says he particularly enjoyed the caricature of Grant Robertson holding the 'care bear budget'.
"A lot of work in that piece of art," he says. "The bear has seen better days – an eye replaced with a button and a pinch dishevelled, but still does the job. There is also the New Zealand Nurses Organisation logo as a collar pin – a hat-tip to the ongoing nurses dispute!"
The cover count
- Jacinda Ardern 42
- Peter Burling 12
- Joseph Parker 11
- Beauden Barrett 10
- Kane Williamson 10
- Christopher Luxon 9
- Lorde 8
- Chris Hipkins 7
- Debbie Ngarewa-Packer 7
- Grant Robertson 7
- Sam Cane 7
- Lisa Carrington 7
- Judith Collins 6
- Kyle Jamieson 6
- Ashley Bloomfield 6
- Donald Trump 5
- Meghan Markle 4
- Lydia Ko 4
- Joe Biden 3