Telling Their Stories

Journalists have a crucial role to play in the aftermath of a natural disaster and throughout the recovery process that follows. Much of the content in CEISMIC exists as a result of the work of reporters, photographers, videographers, and those who work behind the scenes in media agencies.

These people often work tirelessly to tell the stories of others and to keep the public informed, and it’s not often that we get to hear their personal stories.

In 2012, University of Canterbury Journalism student Sean Scanlon carried out a large number of interviews with local journalists as part of his PhD research, and we are excited to announce that the transcripts of these interviews are now publicly available in CEISMIC.

These interviews give us a great deal of insight into what it was like to be working in television, radio, or for The Press during the Canterbury earthquakes, while also living in Christchurch and being personally affected by what was happening. Amanda South, reporter for Newstalk ZB, talks about how there were times when she struggled to cope:

“…after the June quakes I physically deteriorated. I absolutely grieved, fell apart, felt sad for everything in Christchurch. I got sick and couldn’t get well. I had three weeks off work. I started crying and couldn’t stop crying […] I just needed that time to be sad.”

“…when that big red zone announcement came out, that particular day I was completely numb and virtually not functioning as a journalist and I was the only person at ZB covering it and I remember sitting there and hearing the Prime Minister and Gerry Brownlee and Bob Parker and being told it was a good thing and knowing, that part of me completely accepts it was the Government doing a good thing, but actually feeling physically unable to process that information. I tried to do interviews afterwards and I just stopped speaking mid-sentence and it was then I knew I needed a break.”

These transcripts also allow us to gain an understanding of what motivates journalists, and how they see their role in society.

“I’m still very objective, I was at a job yesterday and someone wanted me to sign a petition and I wouldn’t do it. It’s not my place to do it that. You’ve still got to sit on the fence as a journalist and do the job” (Don Scott – Photographer, The Press).

Emily Cooper, Junior Reporter for CTV and Radio Live shares how she feels compelled to keep people informed: “I became a journalist to open people’s minds, I don’t like the idea that ignorance is bliss, I want people to see what is going on in the world and I want people to see what goes on in their own community.”

For Iain McGregor of The Press, it was important to document the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes, despite it being emotionally challenging: “There were patches where I wasn’t taking photos where I had my camera down and I would sort of cry a bit and then I would lift it up and shoot again. I thought it was pretty important to photograph it because if you don’t there is no record.”

Several journalists have experiences of reporting other disasters, which they compare to the Canterbury earthquakes. In his interview, Press photographer David Hallett talks about how covering the Canterbury earthquakes differed to Pike River, and the civil war in Lebanon:

“It was totally different from Pike River. Immediately after that we were the out-of-town vultures that came in and that is the reaction you expect and the one we got. We got abused to hell and I would have done the same. But here we were part of it.”

“It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the civil war in Lebanon. I mean that was February 22nd day after day, constantly […] I think probably there I did suffer from post-traumatic stress but I didn’t know about it because it was never discussed. In those situations there is only three ways you come out of it – an alcoholic, a cold heartless bastard or a cot case. Take your pick or a combination of the three.”

As a whole, these interviews remind us that the impersonal, abstract entity that we so often like to refer to as ‘The Media’ is actually made up of people, who all have their own memories and experiences; who make mistakes just like the rest of us; and who have all been affected in big and small ways, just like the rest of us.

“It was absolute chaos. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know what I was meant to do and sort of ended up teaching myself CMA and helped write stories for the website. One of my first assignments was `can you go to the eastern suburbs and come back with three features?’. It was my second day and I’d worn heels to try and make this good impression. And I ended up having liquefaction knee high and all over my tights – it was stressful, quite scary because there were aftershocks all the time.” (Georgina Stylianou – Reporter, The Press)

The rest of these accounts, and many more, are available in Sean Scanlon’s collection in CEISMIC. We think they’re well worth a read.