This post has been a long time coming, and I will cut to the chase.

The way many mainstream media report the Christchurch earthquakes in the hours and days after it is nothing short of sensationalist gutter journalism. IMO, it’s the lowest form of journalism, it’s lazy, manipulative, but above all, extremely damaging to many people at a time where they are already emotionally fragile.

Case and point.  A headline in the Christchurch Press the day after the June 13 6.3/5.5 combo shakes.

Christchurch earthquakes: ‘It’s like being on death row’

What a load of CRAP.  It’s NOTHING like being on death row.  Being on death row means you are going to die, it’s just a matter of when.  Living in Christchurch can sure be stressful, and some might even say dangerous, but it’s not, and never has been, death row (or anything even close to it).

Now the Press will defend themselves by saying We were only reporting what someone said.  Well that, I fear, is bullshit.  Just coz someone said it doesn’t mean you have to report it.  Clearly it was an overreaction by a stressed out person (and I don’t blame them for saying it).  But I do hold accountable the Christchurch Press for reporting it, and worse, making it the headline.  The only reason they reported it is coz it’s sensationalist.  In fact one of the Press Councils 11 Principles is that headlines must accurately and fairly convey the substance or a key element of the report they are designed to cover. This doesn’t, since the story is nothing about death row, and it’s simply a lazy reporter finding the most extreme quote they could, and making a headline about it.

Can you tell I am pissed off?   Coz I am! Why?  Because right now there are many fragile people in Christchurch.  Putting up with aftershock day after day, and major shocks every month or two that results in sewerage entering your house, and 2 weeks of cleaning up water from your carpet can be demoralising.  Just when things seam to be on track to get some normality back, a quake sets things back six months.  Not to mention picking up smashed glasses for the 4th time isn’t many people’s idea of fun.  The media have an obligation to think of these people before reporting such drivel.

The same article goes on to report:

Dominion Post columnist Jane Bowron was at the airport when the first quake struck, and said there was mass panic as people ran for safety. “The whole place started rocking – it seemed to go on for a very long time.”

Let’s dissect that quote a little: People ran for safety and she calls that mass panic. Maybe it was because the reporter was from Wellington, and hadn’t been around many quakes, but I think running for safety is a GREAT idea during a major earthquake (as long as it means running away from things that might fall on you, for example).  I’d like to see her calmly walk towards the exit next time one hits.  Get real – people ran, so what?  Get over it, and stop reporting SENSATIONALIST CRAP!

TV isn’t any better though.  I was away the day of this series of quakes, and saw some late night news coverage.  A reporter found a crying women and ask her how she was (kinda like a set up isn’t it?).  The women replied she was worried about the children that were with her.  The reporter must have though they had hit the jackpot – crying women over missing children – WOW have I got something to report now!   So the reporter asks ‘Where are they’ to which the women replies ‘They are over there, they are fine, I just worry about them.’ Gee, now that’s good NON NEWS: Women found crying over children that are fine (print that headline!)  Oh wait, there was a WOMEN CRYING, that’s the news story – let’s report that. Let’s show that soft emotional impact. CRAP CRAP CRAP I say.  Lazy manipulative journalism.

So here’s my advice to the media: Next time (and I hope there isn’t one) there is a major quake in Christchurch how about doing something useful.  Report on some stats, report on any USEFUL information that people in Christchurch could use (like the radio station Newstalk ZB did for ages after the September 201 quake) and avoid at all costs any manipulation of headlines or using crying people to manipulate stories so people read/watch them.  Actually the media CAN do this, coz they do already – an example is here of what Stuff (the owners of the Press) did for post June 13. Editors need to start saying no to sensationalist manipulative crap.

Black and White Version: Finding sensationalist headlines during natural disasters is easy.  Being a proper journalist is harder.  Time the media tried more of the latter.

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