Day 2: Diversity In Disaster-Using Words Wisely

On a brilliant Melbourne Autumn morning, day two started at the MCG. A plenary panel with various media people. Looking forward to this perspective. Dennis Mueller, from the University of Melbourne, Sacha Rundle from the ABC, Tom Doig, from Monash University, Nick McKenzie from ABC and Fairfax, and Anna Parle, from the Dept of Premier and Cabinet.

The question posed to the panel was, does diversity come into framing or reporting a story. Naturally there were contrary views. Dennis Muller was of the view that no, this is something that are not given a thought, the most important thing was to get the story out. Even as an executive, he didn’t think to ask the reporters. Although he noted there was more awareness in The Age in Melbourne than in Sydney, as there was a focus on gender diversity. Sacha Horler said yes, although 5 years ago it would have been no, as the shift in society has been reflected in their reporting, such as the floods in the Adelaide hills they sought out the impacts on the Vietnamese farmers. Nick McKenzie, as an investigative journalist, reflected that he hasn’t given it much consideration. The reporting is very gender oriented, blokes with blackened faces, as the heroes, and the victims are women with babies.  He spoke about seeking out the “most worthy victim” Tom Doig reported on the Hazelwood Fire, which he then turned into a book, and a PhD thesis. For him it is all about structural poverty, which is a key driver to impacts. He spoke about the the way the story was framed. It was initially framed as a bushfire. Even a month later, it was still being framed as a bushfire, when it was actually a health issue, which was being managed badly. The government was trying to blame it on an arsonist, when it was poor planning and regulation.

Anna Parle focused on the need to balance reporting with objectives of maintaining social cohesion, and that sometimes direct reporting  of tweets can be detrimental.

Dennis Mueller made the comment that unfortunately the media looks for simple stories, simplifying into heroes and villains, black hats and white hats. The life of a story runs something like: the Flames (the details), heroes (the human stories), then blame.

One of the interesting points made by Wendy Graham from the floor was that NSW are now appointing a Recovery Public Information Officer to help coordinate public information provision in recovery.

A fascinating and challenging topic, and the words of Nick McKenzie, at the end. Journalists are people too.

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