Net proves worth in quake coverage

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

The past week or so has been surreal but I can’t even begin to imagine just how bad it has been for those living through Christchurch’s devastating earthquake, dealing with it all first-hand instead of taking it all in as a reader or viewer via the new websites and TV channels.

The coverage has been amazing and I think it’s fair to say the internet has proved how powerful it can be in a breaking news story, giving ordinary people the chance to share their own videos and photos of the events as they unfold.

Because the internet is so immediate, people now expect to see what is happening when it happens, not a nicely packaged report at 6 o’clock: the way we want the news has changed and the media have changed to meet that demand.

No longer are newspapers competing with other newspapers, TV stations with TV stations. No, now it’s TV, radio, newspapers and websites all competing for the same audience and we’re all competing across all areas – newspapers shooting video for their websites and TV channels writing stories for their sites.

And it’s not just the media, we’re also competing with you: the bloke or bloke-ess on the street with a blog and a camera.

Some of the footage screened on television in the immediate aftermath was pretty raw and there are some images that as far as I’m aware haven’t been screened again since that first awful day – not because the footage lacked polish but because it was too graphic, too painful.

That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have screened in the first place – February 22, 2011, will forever be remembered as an important day in our history, a sad but memorable day when what I’ve always thought was our most beautiful city changed forever and so many lives were lost.

In years to come, all the videos and photos, all the stories, will become part of the record of that day.

Sure, there will always be some out there who take a certain voyeuristic pleasure in watching scenes of death and destruction but for most of us, those scenes were incredibly hard to watch. However, we needed to see that chaos in those first minutes after the quake to fully appreciate just how things were for our Cantabrian Kiwis.

If nothing else, I hope the earthquake has prompted those of us who had become a little too complacent to get organised and finish putting together our survival kits.

I’ll raise my hand and own up to being one of those people who had never quite got around to getting the final bits and pieces for my kit (waterproof matches and a can opener) but it’s all fully stocked now.

Let’s just hope I never have to use it.

Finally, here’s a video that relates to the quake but is a little light-hearted. The photos of this went viral on the net and there’s a lesson in all this: nothing’s ever as well hidden as you think it is.

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