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Panpa Bulletin : June 2006
18 | PANPA BULLETIN June 2006 COVER STORY couple of obvious days. Among the underrated prob- lems for any regional paper cov- ering big stories is responding to requests from interstate col- leagues while trying to organise your own coverage. Murphy's Law operates. We only get those requests at times we're already stretched. As if to heighten the compari- son of resources between us and bigger interstate dailies, four dif- ferent people from the one inter- state outlet chased us for stories and images at the same time on the night the miners were found to be alive. We were happy to help, but we spent a lot of time giving dif- ferent people from the same or- ganisation the same answers. We sorted things out over the course of fortnight but we're still swapping stories about it. Interstate-based members of the electronic media seemed bemused when we wouldn't let our over-worked reporters be used as 'talent'' on live crosses to Beaconsfield, even though those organisations had their own people in the town. Their guys were apparently too busy. None of us were perfect but while newspapers generally can take a bow for the way they cov- ered Beaconsfield, other media need to take stock. Network television in particu- lar needs to remember it is effec- tively local when live bulletins are broadcast nationally. One update late in the rescue operation summed up the way some poorly briefed interstate anchors tried to fill in the gaps. "Grim news ...'' or words to that effect started the report only two days before Russell and Webb were rescued. The grim news wasn't news. It was ridiculous speculation a new rescue tunnel that would have to be dug because, appar- ently, the rock was too hard. If we could be appalled by it in Launceston I wonder what Bea- consfield thought. Few major news stories have presented Australian journalists, photographers and editors with a challenge as demanding and difficult as what they faced in provid- ing successive days of satura- tion coverage of the Tasma- nian mine rescue saga and its emotional aftermath. It was a roller-coaster ride, a story full of unexpected high and lows. Positive news was generally followed by setbacks as technical dif- ficulties and safety issues arose to delay the release of Beaconsfield miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb from their cramped steel cage -- the two-star hotel - which had saved their lives. It was this extended time- table and the daily focus on the strength and fortitude of the miners, the dedica- tion of the rescue teams and the quiet confidence of the close-knit mining communi- ty that combined to fuel ex- traordinary levels of national and global interest. That, in turn, swelled the size of the media teams that, at times, upset the people of the mining community - ten- sion which eased a little after the tragic death of TV per- sonality Richard Carlton. The growth of Winnebago Village, the sniping about Seven's Naomi Robson, the frenetic rivalry between Channels Nine and Seven and their pushy front-men, Eddie McGuire and David Koch, and the camera-hog- ging antics of miners' union boss, Bill Shorten, all added colourful ingredients to the story. More great headline mate- rial was provided by the lo- cal ambos, who relayed the gems of their phone-link pep talks with the trapped men and were the source of that memorable quote about their hellish conditions: "It's like living in a two-star hotel -- and we're the two stars". Many new lessons have been learned from Beacons- field - especially in the han- dling of the competing re- quirements of websites and parent publications. Some tricky operational issues also arose, such as sorting out the pool picture arrangements and a problem with a web cam. What also came through yet again is that when big stories break, the now much slicker and better-resourced websites of the big newspa- per groups are expanding their audience reach without damaging the sales of their mastheads. Replates, too, made a comeback. Public inter- est in Beaconsfield was so great that, despite catch-up editions now usually being ruled out because they are difficult to distribute, stretch resources and pick-up much fewer buyers than they used to, the editors of the major metro newspapers and, of course, Launceston's Exam- iner, opted to produce spe- cial editions. Beaconsfield falls within The Examiner's normal cir- culation area. Editor Dean Southwell, who tells in this issue of the PANPA Bulle- tin how his paper handled events, has also put straight what happened about the pool picture coverage. "In the week before the miners emerged, there were discussions about a possible pool photography situation," Southwell said. "The mine company was happy for it to be organised and didn't care who did it. It was originally proposed as a way of easing some of the pressure on the company and hassles within the media when the time came. "Originally there had been agreement with other papers that one of our photogra- phers would do the job but I naively hadn't considered some of the other issues in- volved. "Ultimately Beaconsfield Mine's media people agreed to a decision by photogra- phers that the pool be done by a Getty Images photogra- pher. "The result was good and, judging from our own expe- rience and what I saw of other papers, distribution was quick and easy". The final moments of the res- cue - the miners emerged just before 6am - could not have come at a worse time for the big dailies. It was Federal Budget day, with arrangements already in place for the Canberra lock-up. Sydney's Daily Telegraph was fortunate - it was in the process of clearing pages to accommo- date the rescue, anticipated to occur much later in the day. Daily Telegraph editor David Penberthy got his alert call from reporter Luke McIlveen in Bea- consfield around 4.15am. It was then just a matter of calling in the staff on stand-by, although a number of them were also earmarked for the budget lock- up later in the day. A team of Penberthy, sen- ior staff members Craig Her- logistical problems, staff exhaustion and printing deadlines couldn’t stop newspapers pulling out all stops to cover the Beaconsfeld story, writes Jack Beverley Golden opportunities in miracle rescue Community trust gets the big story in Beaconsfeld