Amid carnage media bears brunt of disaster

It was only a couple of months ago, one sunny morning that I visited science reporter Paul Gorman and tech editor Will Harvie at The Press in Christchurch.

ctvThe beautiful old building housing the newspaper was devastated in Tuesday’s earthquake and at least one of the newspaper’s staff was killed when the roof crashed down on the upstairs newsroom. This harrowing account from Vicki Anderson, music critic at The Press describes the terrifying moments as the top of the building collapsed in:

After what seemed like forever the shaking stopped and my colleagues emerged and checked each other.

“Get out,” screamed one, “stay where you are,” said another.

Somehow I had the presence of shaken mind to dig out my handbag and cellphone from the rubble.

We walked down the back stairs which were OK, as we left I looked to my right. All I could see of the busy newsroom was the roof of the three-storied building. No people in sight. I had just walked through there 10 minutes prior.

Last year I popped in to meet some of the crew at CTV, Canterbury’s dedicated and active TV channel. The team there were subscribers to the Science Media Centre’s news feeds and regularly contacted us looking for experts.

To see the building now a pile of rubble is almost beyond belief. It is human devastation and the dismantling of an organisation on a scale that I can only really compare to the footage I watched of the 9/11 World Trade Center collapse, where entire workforces and divisions of companies were wiped out.

To be a journalist at the centre of such a disaster must be a peculiar thing – and interviews with the likes of Press reporter Rebecca Todd, who was on One News this morning describing the chaotic destruction of her workplace bear that out. Despite everything, the grief, the shattered infrastructure, The Press managed to get a paper out and its team have regrouped to report on the web. As Rebecca explained, it helped them take their minds off the immediate reality of their part at the centre of the disaster.

The CTV disaster is on a different scale, as chairman Nick Smith explained on radio this morning. Of the 25 staff at the TV station, only 10 survivors made it to a meeting yesterday to regroup. Imagine that level of destruction and loss of life in the organisation you work in.

There was intense scrutiny of the media’s coverage of the first Canterbury earthquake, and for that matter Pike River.

While there have been conflicting reports and shaky live crosses in the course of coverage of this latest disaster, the New Zealand media has actually responded impressively, with dignity and respect for the people of Christchurch. Sadly, the journalists in our media organisations are becoming expert at covering disaster.

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