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Jan 21 2010

Asia Pacific

Tip Sheet

Black Saturday: One Year Later

As the anniversary of Australia's worst peacetime disaster approaches, expert guidance on how to reflect without retraumatising.

Photo: William West / AFP / Getty Images: 
A farmer inspects the damage done ...

Photo: William West / AFP / Getty Images: A farmer inspects the damage done to his property in Labertouche, Australia after the Black Saturday bushfires in February 2009. The fires were the worst peacetime disaster in Australian history, and their effects on individuals and communities will be a story for years to come.

Australia's worst natural disaster struck Victoria on Feb. 7, 2009, when the Black Saturday bushfires killed 173 people, injured at least 400 and affected countless thousands more. One year later, survivors and their communities reflect on lost loved ones, burned homes and physical and psychological injuries that continue to shape their lives, even as they cease to make headlines. News organisations writing the "anniversary story" can help make this time of reflection a healing one, but only if they consider how to report as respectfully and accurately as possible.

The Dart Centre has gathered lessons from other tragic anniversaries — 9/11, the Omagh bombing, Hurricane Katrina and the murder of Matthew Shepard — lessons from covering the bushfires themselves and general resources for covering traumatic events.

Tragic Anniversaries

  • "Letter from New Orleans: Facing Two Storms": John Pope from The Times-Picayune reflects on the arrival of Hurricane Gustav almost exactly three years after Hurricane Katrina.
  • "Commemorating Our Troubles": BBC producer Seamus Kelters considers TV news' approach to anniversaries after the fifth commemoration of the Omagh bombing — the worst atrocity of Northern Ireland's Troubles.
  • "9/11 Anniversary Reactions": In an interview, psychiatrist Frank Ochberg, M.D. talks about the reactions to expect from survivors one year after the 9/11 attacks.
  • "Revisiting Matthew Shepard's Murder": Star-Tribune editor Kerry Drake tells the story of reporting the murder of gay student Matthew Shepard and covering its tenth anniversary.
  • "Reliving 9/11": Beth Fertig offers a look behind the scenes at WNYC as it strove to avoid retraumatising its listeners while reporting dispatch tapes released on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The Black Saturday Bushfires

Covering Traumatic Events

  • Dart Centre Australasia's self care tips for news personnel exposed to traumatic events, staff care tips for their managers and editors and reporting tips for dealing with victims of violence.
  • Quick tips, in-depth resources and links to other organisations relevant to covering disasters.
  • "Tragedies and Journalists": the Dart Center's comprehensive guide for reporters, editors, photographers and managers on every aspect of reporting tragedy.
  • Guidance on mental health issues and how they evolve in regions devastated by natural disasters, presented by psychiatrist Alexander McFarlane.
  • Scientific consensus, made readable, on the effects of traumatic coverage on journalists, on media consumers in general and on children in particular.

Dart Center Events

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Cait McMahon

  • Cait McMahon PhD (Cand.) is a registered psychologist and fulltime managing director of Dart Centre Asia Pacific, with headquarters in Melbourne, Australia and activities throughout the Asia Pacific region. McMahon has been interested in the nexus of journalism and trauma since working as staff counsellor at The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia in the mid ‘80’s and 90’s. This interest resulted in postgraduate research in the area in 1993 with subsequent publications.

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