The five-member staff of The Blue Mountains Gazette has epitomised role of newspapers in their community in the time of crisis.
The small team has not only been an aggregator of content for the local community via their social media page over the last five days, they have more than doubled their reach as well as putting the next edition of the paper to bed yesterday.
When the fire emergency first broke, the Blue Mountains Gazette had just over 3000 ‘likes’. Now the page is nudging the 10,000 ‘likes’ mark Gazette editor Damien Madigan says his team are extremely humbled by the way in which people used the site.
“We’ve had to put in a lot of long hours but at the end of the day we are really happy with what we’ve produced,” he said. “Look we knew that it would probably grow in the situation like this but the level of growth has really taken us by surprise, it’s been just phenomenal.
“We are all really humbled by the way that the community had used our Facebook page as a meeting point to share stories and support. It’s been great. It’s been hard work to manage and long days but we’re getting a great response from the community and it’s worth it when you’re making a difference in people lives.”
Mr Madigan said not only people in the Mountains were using it but also those who have family in the area, or even those overseas who grew up in the Mountains.
People were also using the page to keep the newsroom motivated by sending words of encouragement.
“A lot of people were offering support and it was quite amazing having people telling us to keep up the good work. It was fantastic that people were using the site to offer those who had lost their houses support – from a family in Wollongong offering a family who lost everything their car, to an initiative getting formal dresses to those who need them.”
Journalists and staff of the Blue Mountains Gazette were also personally affected by the fires.
“We’ve had staff who had to leave and go home – one senior staff member to defend his house and one senior journalist had a son at a high school that was locked down. However, at but at the end of the day everyone was trying to focus on their jobs. We were lucky though,” he said.
With the paper to the printers, it is not the end of the operation for the Gazette staff. “The paper went to print two hours ago and we all hugged each other and sighed a massive sigh of relief,” Mr Madigan said. “But we still have journalists on shifts for the Facebook page tonight because we still need to keep the community updated. We owe it to the residents who have participated on our page over the past few days and made our job easier. We are so grateful.”
More on newspaper’s coverage of the bushfire crisis:
THE NEW ABC: Regional newspapers taking on the role of the public broadcaster
NEWS FROM THE FRONT: How one publisher dealt with the bushfire disaster
HELL ON EARTH: Tele photographer John Grainger talks about his experience on the ground
THANK YOU: A masthead’s gratitude goes viral