At high school in Opotiki, Kim Webby was intrigued by the idea of becoming a naturopath (her mother, a nurse, had done studies on the topic). But Kim’s guidance counsellor noted Webby’s impressive English marks, and recommended journalism instead.
After studying journalism at Auckland Technical Institute, Webby worked at newspaper The Whakatane Beacon and the newsrooms of Radio Pacific and 89FM. Then she began at TVNZ as a researcher. Soon she was reporting for regional show Top Half and the primetime news bulletin (including time covering "murder, rape and mayhem" as police reporter). A decade later, TV2 experimented with late night show Newsnight, which covered many arts and music stories aimed at a younger audience. Webby enjoyed the change to doing some lighter stories, and also spent time as one of the presenters.
In the same period she also began filing stories for Asia Dynamic, a weekly magazine show aimed at local Asian viewers. Over the next decade, Webby periodically continued to direct and present pieces, long after Asia Dynamic changed names to Asia Downunder (she also produced the show for its 2003 season). In 1998 she joined the reporting team on long-running consumer rights series Fair Go. It was Webby's first experience at advocacy style journalism: intuition and gut instinct were key factors in trying to work out who had been wronged, "as well as an awful lot of research" and a good lawyer.
She also produced a documentary on the shooting of Steven Wallace; the documentary saw some hairy moments recreating the tragedy in Waitara, as many locals were keen for filming not to proceed.
Webby was part of the reporting team for 60 Minutes when the show was replaced by current affairs programme Sunday in 2002. Webby laid a personal grievance claim against TVNZ; her PSA representative Grant Duffy argued that although three other 60 Minutes reporters had transferred to Sunday, Webby was instead offered an off-camera role “because she wasn’t new”, and did not fit the new show's image.
In this period Webby began directing and producing the first of many documentaries for Māori Television and TVNZ, including a number that featured on Māori TV’s annual Anzac Day coverage.
In 2011 her film October 15 was nominated for Best Documentary at the Aotearoa Film and Television awards. First screened on Māori TV’s Pakipumeka slot, and winner of the top award at the 2011 Wairoa Māori Film Fesival, the documentary examines the effects of the police raids on the Bay of Plenty community of Ruatoki.
In July 2015 The Price of Peace premiered at the NZ International Film Festival to a standing ovation. The film is a portrait of Tūhoe activist Tame Iti, who after the 2007 police raids was one of four to go to trial, accused of plotting terrorist activities. Webby long thought the raids would end in a police apology, “so I just kept going. It took seven years, which was somewhat longer than I had anticipated.” Webby hoped the film would allow viewers to learn a little more of Tūhoe history, and get a new perspective on Iti, whose family she has known for 20 plus years. NZ Herald veteran Peter Calder praised the result for balancing its personal focus with a wider historical view of Ngāi Tūhoe.
It wasn’t the first time that Webby’s on and off screen life had intertwined. 2010 documentary Coming Home followed Webby and Asia Downunder director Jason Moon as they headed back to their respective villages in China (Webby's mother was Pākehā, and her father Chinese; she was brought up in NZ by her mother's elder sister). In 2011 Webby and Moon made TroppoDoc, an Asia Downunder episode chronicling Webby's time on a remote island in Indonesia, working alongside Kiwi doctor Derek Allen, whose watch covers 60,000 people.
By now Webby’s professional life had seen transformation thanks to what she half-jokingly calls a “mid-life epiphany”. A story she filed on Whakatane sawmillers who were dealing with dioxin poisoning reminded her again of her desire “to do more than just report on the issue”.
In 2010 she began studying for a Bachelor of Naturopathy; as part of the course she wrote an essay on the Whakatane miners. Now working as a naturopath in Whakatane, Webby has discovered that her journalism background is a help in her new job: “You have to gain someone’s trust, make them feel comfortable”.
Webby has far from abandoned documentaries. In 2012 she directed Ngā Tamatoa, which marked the 40th anniversary of the Māori youth movement presenting a petition to Parliament on te reo. The film was presented by Ngā Tamatoa’s one-time Wellington leader Rawiri Paratene.
Webby’s other work as director includes 2007 Media Peace Awards nominee Ta Moko, one of a number of documentaries she has made about Māori tattoo. She has helmed episodes of both missing persons show The Missing and The Missing Piece, following Katie Wolfe and Brendon Pongia as they traced back their Māori ancestry.
She also directed the first two seasons of Kaitiaki, which offered a “flax-roots” local perspective on environmental issues. Webby has narrated many documentaries made by others; she has also been heard dispatching the ambulances on episodes of Shortland Street.
'Kim Webby: From TV news to social justice documentaries' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 9 November 2015. Accessed 9 November 2015
Peter Calder, 'Kiwi docos to catch at this year's film festival' - The NZ Herald, 16 July 2015
Linda Herrick, ‘McDonald in debate ban’ - The Sunday Star-Times, 16 June 1996, page F11
Jeff Neems, ‘Coastal projects get a new airing’ (Interview) - The Waikato Times, 25 November 2008, page 5
Kim Purdy, '60 Minutes reporter to fight dismissal' - The Sunday Star-Times, 24 March 2002, page A3
Gill South, ‘’Mid-life epiphany’ leads TV host to healing career’ (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 9 April 2011, page C12
Uncredited, ‘Life Transition: 'TV Journalist - To Natural Healer’ (Interview) Voxy website. Loaded 24 January 2011. Accessed 17 July 2015
Uncredited, ‘Webby to join Fair Go' - The Dominion, 20 December 1997, page 23