Interview with Sally Chen,
Skykiwi journalist

Sally Chen is a senior journalist at, New Zealand's largest Chinese-language website. Her reporting efforts earned her the award for best Chinese-language reporting at the 2017 New Zealand China Council Media Awards. Chen was also a research assistant for the Asian Investment in New Zealand report, published by the Asia New Zealand Foundation in June. She spoke to the Asia Media Centre about her background as a journalist and her work at Skykiwi.
Sally chen standing in Auckland at the harbour

Sally Chen majored in Burmese at university. (Photo: Supplied)

What stories did you enter for the NZCC Media Awards?

I submitted three articles. One was an interview with John Key about the China relationship. There was also an interview with Zhang Fan, the economic and commercial counsellor of the Chinese Embassy, about the Belt and Road initiative and what it will bring to New Zealand. That article was also published in mainstream Chinese media including the Global Times and the website of People's Daily.

I also submitted an article that I worked on for about a month – a comprehensive research-style report on Chinese investment in New Zealand. That’s the one I am most satisfied with. 

I worked on the Asian Investment in New Zealand report with Natasha Hamilton-Hart. I accumulated some materials about Chinese investment. I went over the OIO decisions about Chinese investment in New Zealand – about whether it was greenfield or M&A [merger and acquisition] – and also Statistics New Zealand data. We also did case-study interviews with some companies investing here.

We will still continue to explore this area. Now we are trying to do industry-focused reports, starting with education.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I graduated from the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU), where I majored in Burmese.

In China, if want you go to university, you have to do the gaokao (university entrance exam), which is very deterring, very difficult.

But there was an opportunity for me to attend the BFSU. I was told: “You don’t have to do gaokao, you can just take a smaller test and study Burmese.” BFSU is a very prestigious language college. So I thought I’d learn Burmese – maybe I could become a diplomat.

I applied for a foreign affairs job when I graduated, but they didn’t pick me, they chose my classmate. So I went to China Radio International (CRI) to work as a Burmese anchor, dealing with news from Southeast Asia.

Then I was transferred to Australia as a resident correspondent in 2009 and 2010. I later went back to Beijing and worked at the Southeast Asian broadcasting centre for CRI.

Sally chen at auckland airport on the runway with ar nz plane behind her

Sally Chen at Auckland Airport in 2016, for a story on Hong Kong Airline's inaugural daily flight to Auckland. (Photo: Supplied)

When did you move to New Zealand?

I quit my job in Beijing last year and moved to New Zealand. The reason I chose New Zealand is largely because it's a multicultural society which enjoys a diversity I have never seen in any other country.

On my first interview trip to New Zealand in 2009, I interviewed Labour MP Raymond Huo. I was amazed that a first-generation migrant could become an MP in New Zealand; something which is hardly seen in any western country.

Initially, I'd wanted to do my PhD here. My Master’s project back in China was about Chinese investment in the Burmese minerals industry. I wanted to continue my studies but when I came here I found there was little engagement from New Zealand into Myanmar.

So I chose to work with Skykiwi. Luckily they chose me too!

Tell us more about Skykiwi.

Skykiwi is the largest Chinese-language website in New Zealand. It was established as a student forum in 2001 and became a commercial website in 2004.

There are 300,000 registered users on Skykiwi. Our website is kind of an information hub to help new migrants get to know New Zealand society. The articles that attract the most views are immigration, property, and community news.

We have a reporting team and a translation team. The translation team covers news from mainstream media, and also international news. They translate about 50 stories a day. The reporting team consists of seven people – five in Auckland and two in Wellington.

We are trying to engage our readers, to inform Chinese readers of what's happening in the mainstream society.

Take the general election. I think many Chinese people have a low willingness to vote, or don’t care much about it. We’re creating an election special page and making it as easy as possible for people to engage and make their voices heard. We want to let them know you have the responsibility and the right to engage, not only with the Chinese community but also the wider community.

Another example is a letter we received from a parent, saying "my son has been distributing weed. What should I do as a parent?". Some Chinese people do not know much about the issues being debated locally, but when it comes to their own community, their own kids, they will start paying attention.

Skykiwi is increasingly trying to focus on original reporting because we believe it's the responsibility of the media to engage people when you have this scale.  

Reported by: Rebecca Inoue-Palmer


New Zealand China Council Media Awards

The Asia New Zealand Foundation sponsored the Best General Reporting category in the 2017 New Zealand China Council Media Awards, which was won by Jared Savage of the New Zealand Herald.

Other winners were:

  • Best Business Reporting: Gerard Hutching, Dominion Post
  • Best Regional Reporting: Neal Wallace, Farmers Weekly
  • Best Student Journalism: Findlay Buchanan, Massey University
  • Supreme Winner: Gerard Hutching, Fairfax NZ.