Grafton became the centre of global media attention over the weekend after the revelation that Christchurch gunman Brenton Tarrant grew up in the city.
Grafton became the centre of global media attention over the weekend after the revelation that Christchurch gunman Brenton Tarrant grew up in the city.

Voice of reason inside the media storm

SOMETIMES when a big news story breaks it can be exhilarating. Other times you just want to run away and hide.

The events of one year ago had elements of both.

After the Christchurch shooting took place (at 11.55am ADST), it took a couple of hours for the Grafton link to filter into the newsroom, and the realisation that our day - and subsequent weeks and months - would be flipped upside down.

That afternoon everyone clicked into gear. Our bosses pulled strings at the print site to delay our deadline. I started making calls to verify this shooter’s identity.

But then the tsunami of calls started flooding in. It seemed every publication in the world wanted in on this story. I quickly realised none were going to give me any helpful information - they were all chasing the same thing.

Other publications had already gone with it, but the i’s weren’t dotted and t’s weren’t crossed. We’d cease to exist and I would no longer have a job if we were wrong - imagine if someone else with the same name from somewhere else had committed the crime (it happens).

Calls from bosses and other media ringing off the hook, a story going nowhere fast, deadline sprinting towards you... running away to hide felt like the perfect option. But we got there. The local paper acknowledged its dark truth.

And, as much as many people at the time refused to accept it, sadly the fact he is from here is most definitely newsworthy and relevant.

It was obvious long before we had triple checked and hit publish on our confirmation of the links to Grafton that this was going to make long-lasting shockwaves in our community.

It was inevitable that the media was going to swarm on Grafton, and we were powerless to stop that.

The next morning was eerie. There was an overwhelming sense of numbness as I walked through the shopping centre to grab a coffee.

Where do you go with this?

What I decided to do across that weekend (see timeline on page 7) and into the next week was avoid adding to the glare.

The media invasion became a story in itself. We observed what took place. We tried to make sense of it.

But it wasn’t a lightbulb moment. Rather, amid this barrage calls, I was guided by the first person to make contact with the aim of helping our community in this situation.

Reverened Canon Dr Gregory Jenks, dean of the Christ Church Cathedral in Grafton lights a candle in preparation for the vigil service to be held in the church.
Reverened Canon Dr Gregory Jenks, dean of the Christ Church Cathedral in Grafton lights a candle in preparation for the vigil service to be held in the church.

That glum morning, it was the Dean of Grafton, Dr Greg Jenks, who had the sense of mind to call for a prayer vigil.

Publishing that story was the tonic I needed to deal with my own shock, and from it stemmed our agenda to act as a reassuring mouthpiece for our community, with an emphasis on compassion.

Community lay flower hearts at Memorial Park to commemorate the victims of the Christchurch shooting.
Community lay flower hearts at Memorial Park to commemorate the victims of the Christchurch shooting.

Grafton was fortunate that many of its community leaders did lead from the front.

Cr Richie Williamson was pictured on the front page the following Monday, laying a wreath in memory of the victims. His words from a Facebook post the morning after the attack helped sum up the mood in the town.

“There’s a numbness and a profound sense of grief in our community this morning,” the former mayor said. “Our hearts have broken, the tears have streamed, the shock is setting in, we cry with the people of Christchurch and New Zealand.”

And that was exactly the type of leadership we needed at the time. People willing to share their thoughts feelings, to help others make sense of theirs.

It has since been reassuring to see the majority of the public response in this region has been of promoting acceptance and tolerance, and not a propagation of white extremist ideals. I just hope this is also indicative of the private response in conversations at dinner tables across the region.

Members of the community light candles at a community prayer vigil at the Christ Church Cathedral.
Members of the community light candles at a community prayer vigil at the Christ Church Cathedral.

  • In The Daily Examiner’s biennial magazine Clarence+, released on March 24, we learn how one woman kept her Grafton heritage a carefully guarded secret as she embraced family of victims at Al Noor Mosque 14 days after the shooting.

“I was disgusted that I was from the same town as this human who had just destroyed so many lives,” she said.



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