Christchurch quake a grim reminder for Press staff

The Press front covers the day after the 2011 and 2016 Christchurch earthquakes. Left: 23 Feb, 2011. Right: 15 Feb, 2016.

The Press front covers the day after the 2011 and 2016 Christchurch earthquakes. Left: 23 Feb, 2011. Right: 15 Feb, 2016.

It was a little after 1pm on Sunday when the office of Christchurch daily newspaper The Press began shaking as a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit the garden city of New Zealand’s south island.

As computers, pot plants and ceiling panels in the newsroom crashed to the ground, foremost in the minds of some of the long-serving staff were the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes – the latter of which devastated the city and claimed the lives of more than 180 people.

To make the tremors even more significant, the quake occurred only days from the five-year anniversary of the fatal Christchurch quake of February 22, 2011.

There were no fatalities or major structural damage in the city, unlike in 2011 when The Press’s old building partially collapsed, killing accounts clerk Adrienne Lindsay and seriously injuring two others.

“Sunday’s earthquake was a really nasty reminder for our team of just how powerful those quakes had been and what a traumatic experience we’d been through, and the city,” editor of The Press Joanna Norris said.

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Damage inside the Press building after the 6.3 magnitude Christchurch earthquake in 2011. Photo: John Kirk-Anderson / The Press

Only moments after the quake hit at 1:13pm, The Press team published content online with more videos, articles and photos filed throughout the afternoon.

Their coverage, which included dramatic footage of cliffs collapsing in Christchurch’s seaside suburbs, helped Fairfax news site Stuff.co.nz attract its biggest audience ever. It received more than 1.1 million page impressions over the course of Sunday afternoon.

On Monday, The Press published a special earthquake edition. It included dramatic photos, scientific analysis of the likelihood of another quake, reflections on the event in relation to the 2011 quake and information on where to get mental health support.

Pages 2 & 3 of The Press' special earthquake edition.

Pages 2 & 3 of The Press’ special earthquake edition.

Another special earthquake edition will be published on Monday, February 22, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 2011 disaster. The Press’s digital coverage will include videos and interactives showing the rebuilding on Christchurch and reflections on people who were injured or lost.

“It’s really important that we commemorate and memorialise the people that we have lost and also the city that we have lost,” Ms Norris said, “and to look forward to where our city is going. We’re still very much rebuilding.

“Christchurch isn’t fixed yet and it’s really important that we look at whether we’re on track in terms of the rebuild.”

For Fairfax rival NZME, the quake provided a test of the publisher’s new integrated newsroom. NZME digital editor Irene Chapple said the arrival of the Valentine’s Day quake just ahead of the anniversary was a huge shock for the people of Christchurch.

‘This was a story about the psychological wellbeing of Christchurch’s people; their repeated suffering and impressive resilience’

“This was a story about the psychological wellbeing of Christchurch’s people; their repeated suffering and impressive resilience,” she said.

After the quake hit, NZME’s Christchurch team was immediately on the ground gathering interviews, videos and photos while in Auckland, the publisher’s combined newsroom proved a huge asset in gathering and disseminating stories across all platforms at speed.

There was close collaboration with NZME’s radio team, with Tony Veitch interrupting his weekend sports radio program to cover the story and interview Prime Minister John Key and Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel.

“We embedded this audio in our breaking news coverage. It was a fantastic display of cross-platform coverage,” Ms Chapple said.

Nzherald.co.nz/news attracted half a million unique browsers and 1.3 million page impressions over the course of Sunday.

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