Emergency reporting is one of the most important tasks any media organisation can do. It matters deeply to communities that their local media gets it right, understands what is happening and cares about the impact, long after the crisis has passed and the big operators from the city have gone home.
We’ve worked hard to do that for everyone in the Capital region over the past month or so since that first major fire began at Palerang before Christmas, and we’ll continue to do so.
But Region is very much a local outfit. While other mastheads have large teams at their immediate disposal or as back-up resources, we’ve just got ourselves. We’re a dedicated, growing but still small team, many of whom have worked their hearts out for the last few weeks.
As the New Year’s firestorm erupted on the South Coast, Bega Valley-based business manager and journalist Lisa Herbert teamed up with Moruya journalist Alex Rea, who is also deeply connected to the Braidwood community. Together they drove through fire-ravaged communities, sourcing stories about the devastation and helping out themselves despite having no power at home.
Lisa volunteered as a barbecue cook at Moruya when not filing for us and has put up her hand up for her own local fire brigade to help with communications. She spent hours talking to evacuees as the skies darkened overhead and the fires loomed.
Alex had already played a vital role in our coverage of the Palerang fire before Christmas. She monitored RFS radio and used extensive contacts on the ground to put Region hours ahead of other media outlets with our coverage of the threat to Braidwood.
Region’s business writer Karyn Starmer is at Moruya, where she faced the very real risk of losing her home of 25 years last week. The garden did go: Karyn cut down and cleared everything she’d planted and nurtured to give her and her husband a fighting chance of defending the place.
But she gave vital support to Alex and Lisa, sending us story ideas and contacts and charging up their equipment so they could keep posting stories and messages whenever they could find reception.
Back at Region’s base in Canberra, the team rallied to keep everything rolling. That included me posting Facebook Live updates from my farm backyard, with the assistance of family members on their Christmas break and a microphone that Region boss Michael McGoogan drove hours to deliver (along with some very welcome cartons of beer for the “tech team”).
Michael Weaver was a machine, amalgamating masses of material into fire updates and attending the Fairbairn emergency briefings. Ian Bushnell and Dom Giannini held the fort and produced continuous content to keep RiotACT and About Regional rolling.
Region co-CEO Tim White is overseas with family but kept his eyelids propped up with matchsticks so the publishing schedule would run smoothly. Sub-editor David Murtagh worked literally around the clock to make sure our content was accurate, timely and that comments met community standards.
Many more people, including quite a few spouses and partners, helped out behind the scenes with everything from comment moderation to a regular supply of coffee.
And all of this while the Region team was “on holidays”.
Local media is all about being part of our community. It’s not over yet, but, we’ll be there for the long haul for our neighbours, families and friends.