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My heart goes out to the friends and family who lost loved ones in the Tongiriro tragedy on Tuesday 15 April. The loss of young life is always shocking, and this case was no exception. Most New Zealander’s can fondly remember their school camps and the thrill of overcoming the challeges presented in adventure courses such as the canyoning trip the Elim youth undertook. This could have happened to anyone, or to anyone’s children. I’m sure most New Zealander’s would agree that what occurred was truly awful.

Unfortunately, New Zealand’s media could not apply the tact and sensitivity required for this story. Both of the country’s leading print media companies, APN and Fairfax, were more intent on gaining any impressive exclusive footage of any weather related incidents, than reporting the tragedy with the necessary sensitive.

In this age of affordable video cameras and advanced camera phones, remarkable footage is aired of all sorts of events. The news networks obtained footage of the Virginia Tech shootings last year filmed by a student walking around with a camera phone/camcorder. The London Underground bombings produced homemade footage from inside the train that was hit. Remember the footage of the Boxing Day Tsumami from the hotel balcony, the footage of the house slipping into the river after the flood (in the Waiarapa?), or of course the mass of citizen footage from Sept 11.

The media love this footage. It’s cheap (as no gets paid), it’s exclusive and it can often be amazing. I’m sure most would agree that all of the above footage was breathtaking. Why wouldn’t media outlets want some exclusive footage of disasters? And they do ask for it. But sometimes they could be a bit more tactful.

Fairfax’s Stuff.co.nz had this between the headline and their story about the tragedy:

Have you been affected by the bad weather rocking the North Island? Send your photos, videos and comments to newsroom@stuff.co.nz

APN’s New Zealand Herald was no better with a similar request for exclusives under the headline of the story of the horse rider who was fatally struck by lightning in the same bad weather.

To me, and others in my journalism classes, found it all very distasteful. In both stories, the lightning death and the cannoning tragedy, lives were lost. Families devasted, friends gutted, communities at a loss. And the media want some juicy shots? Get lost.

I do hope to become a print journalist. I would love to work for one of APN’s or Fairfax’s premier papers. However, all too often I find their reporting distasteful, insensitive, sensationalist or desperate. It all comes down to why u write, to appeal to Orwell. There should be more to journalism than selling papers, however the commercial constraints will forever undermine decent, ethical reporting.

Television reporting was also poor, it seemed as though channel 1 and 3 were keen to milk every interview and exploit every angle to fill up their 6 o’clock bulletins. Whenever these tragedies occur, the media leap onto the story, morbidly seeing the story as a goldmine. Perhaps this is understandable. In particular I cannot stand the speculation. Of course we all want to know what happened and who, if anyone, is responsible, but there will be investigations, and answers will come. Pointing fingers and placing blame prematurely will not serve anyone any good. I also found the footage of the body bags being taken from the scene distastful and the footage of the children crying in the assembly when the victims were named was intrusive and unnecessary.

To those involved in the tragedy, good luck. Elim Christian College was of course a religious school, so clearly those involved are turning to their faith to get through the experience. Campbell Live’s religious angle to their segment was odd, maybe its just me, I did not seem to see it as important, but then again it might have been to them. I just could not imagine them doing a segment on how atheists were dealing with a tragedy if a group of humanists died! Even though I disagree with religion in every way possible, I hope it can bring the families any comfort they may seek.


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[…] the story a little insenstive to the victims. Perhaps not as insensitive as the web media’s requests for “bad weather” footage after the Elim school tragedy, but it is another example of […]

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Comment by Matt the comment

Your work is marvelous!!

Comment by Martin

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