Monday, January 9, 2012

Journalist vs. Human Being

After working as a journalist for 19 months, I went to my first ever press conference on Sunday. I know, shocking right? Well, that’s because nothing major ever happens in the Wairarapa.
But that all changed when a hot air balloon caught a power line which sent the basket up in flames and plummeting to the earth, killing all 11 on board on Saturday morning.
Before I go on, let it be known that I am not writing this to get for sympathy for my poor journalist soul. I am writing this to get my thoughts out of my head so I can sleep tonight, which is one of the purposes of my blog, and I’m sure some of you might like to know what it’s like to cover the worst aviation disaster in New Zealand since Erebus. Pressure much?!
While journalists from my work who were in the Wairarapa were woken up by our chief reporter minutes after it happened, I was guiltily having a sleep in at my parents house in Lower Hutt and didn’t know about it until three hours later when my partner woke me up with a text message telling me the news.
I raced upstairs to get online and find out the full story and the first thought that went through my head was that of a journalist: “We have a lead story for Monday’s paper”.
I was already rostered on to work on Sunday, and I imagined that my editor would come in and me and another reporter would work on the story together.
But as the day wore on and the radio reports started naming people and the television reports began calling it the worst aviation disaster since the Erebus crash in 1979, in which all 237 passengers and 20 crew on board were killed, I had an inkling that it would be slightly more major than I thought.
It was not until I drove back to the Wairarapa on Sunday morning that it started to sink in both professionally and personally.
It has taken a good year for it to happen, but I finally feel like Wairarapa is home, and even when I leave, it will still feel like home. So having something like this happen in my home, to people I’ve met, is not an easy thing to deal with.
It’s a bit of a moral dilemma being both a journalist and a human being, and this isn’t the first time I have felt like I have too much compassion, too much of a conscience for this job.
On the one hand, you feel your heart breaking for the families who have lost someone they love and for your community, but on the other hand, you have to try and feel happy about the fact that you are writing about an historic event that will remembered for years and years to come – people will have your newspaper tucked away in a memorabilia box; people will have your articles glued in a scrapbook. Events like this make a journalist’s career.
I went to the Carterton Events Centre today to interview a reverend who I adore and who I had tea and scones with just weeks ago, and seeing the One News crew loitering outside with their video cameras set up, looking bored and unaffected while I waltzed in and could count about six people I knew who were visibly upset, really brought it home to me and made me feel like I’m truly a Wairarapa resident.
I told the reverend that I couldn’t sleep on Saturday night knowing what was waiting for me at work on Sunday, and she said that even people who did not know anybody on the balloon were being deeply affected, but their grief had nowhere to go.
So she encouraged me to sign the condolence book, and when I did, I felt my heart lighten just slightly, but still fought back tears as I power-walked back to my car where I sat and just breathed.


  1. Hi Sarah. Luke shared your post on Kiwi Journalists Association Facebook page. I was moved by your words. Do not lose that mixed emotion. It will make you a great journalist. It will have you connected with people. That connection and constant questioning of your feelings and relationships I believe is what separates great journalists from those in it for a power trip. These sorts of things have been crystalising for me in my teaching since joining Jim Tucker at Whitireia 2 years ago. Cheers - Bernie Whelan

  2. Bernie said it best, I think. Don't forget that if it's done right and with the degree of sensitivity you obviously possess, your reporting becomes part of the grieving process. I had a friend who died in the quake last year, and the stories remembering him have meant a lot to me.

    Solidarity from one journo to another. Hope you're sleeping a little better now.