Journalist Kirsty Johnston on fighting for the underdog

23 February 2023
By Fashion Quarterly

In conversation with FQ, discover why we consider Kirsty Johnston a powerful force for change in Aotearoa.

Kirsty Johnston, Journalist, Stuff

Kirsty wears Maggie Marilyn ‘Colorado with the Girls’ vest, $950. Kathryn Wilson ‘Braided’ belt, $149. All other items her own.

Named Reporter of the Year at the 2022 Voyager Media Awards, Kirsty Johnston has spent her whole career fighting for the underdog. Dedicated to bringing the stories of marginalised communities to light, her writing has changed lives and in some cases legislation.

“Winning Reporter of the Year was certainly a proud moment,” she says. “Not because I think awards are the be-all and end-all, but because my portfolio was solely made up of stories about gender violence,” she says. 

“It felt incredibly significant to have that particular body of work acknowledged by an institution that until now has relegated this sort of reporting to the less-important category of ‘women’s issues’, rather than recognising it as a mainstream topic.” 

One of the stories included in Johnston’s submission was the heavily publicised case of domestic violence victim ‘Mrs P’, who was wrongly accused of lying in the Family Court about her abuse, then wrongly convicted of perjury, which cast her into bankruptcy and cost her her job. 

Johnston’s investigation exposed Mrs P’s plight. “To be able to tell that story was a privilege because it’s so rare in these cases that courts find in the victim’s favour,” she says, adding that she continues to seek out these stories because “I want people to know what coercive control really looks like, as well as how our systems perpetuate it instead of helping to keep women safe from it.” 

On working throughout the pandemic, Johnston says watching the spread of misinformation was heartbreaking. “Part of my job is to tell stories that help people navigate the world and understand complex issues, but when there’s no agreement on even the most basic of facts, that feels impossible.” 

Her hope is that in years to come, the pandemic post-mortem will show that the media does have a role to play in society “and it can be done with integrity, in a way that speaks to everyone, not just the dominant group”.

Words: Phoebe Watt
Photography: Guy Coombes

About FQ’s Class of 2022 Changemakers

As the sun sets on 2022 and rises on another year ripe for change — be it individual or collective, domestic or global, big or small — Kirsty Johnston is one of seven remarkable women from around Aotearoa who have affected positive change in fields as varied as journalism and the creative arts through to beauty and sustainability. Through their mahi and vision, the lives, legislative rights and legacies of our people and our planet have been changed for the better. Let their challenges and triumphs inspire you to identify a change you wish to tackle in your career and personal life, and motivate you to take that first important step.

Learn more about our FQ Changemakers in our Summer 2023 Issue.


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