I had never heard of Sonya Voumard until the Stella Prize longlist was released in early February, but I was intrigued by the sound of her nominated book, so quickly borrowed it from my local library and read it. The Media and the Massacre (Port Arthur 1996-2016) is an investigation into the nature of journalism and the ethics involved in the hunt for a good story.
Sonya Voumard is a former journalist turned academic, and this book arose from her doctoral thesis on the ethics of storytelling. Her background gives her an acute understanding of what drives journalists in their work and the ethics they ascribe to. It also gave her access to reporters and editors to interview for this work.
Voumard writes about how the media covered the massacre, at the time, in the aftermath and on anniversaries. She depicts the journalist's adrenalin-fueled quest to be best and first - first on the scene, first to file, first to get the best photos and best interviews - and the sometimes questionable tactics used to meet deadlines.
There were other accounts, like Carol Altmann's After Port Arthur (2006) which explores the effects of the massacre that linger a decade later. Voumard also talks to many journalists and editors about the impact the story had on them - the trauma of covering the story and bearing witness to such a horrendous act - and some had even left the profession.
Her interviews with Simon Longstaff about professional standards are fascinating. It was interesting how little redress is available to someone who has a complaint about the behaviour of journalists.
Importantly, this book is not about the massacre itself or the man who committed the crime. It is about ethics and journalism, and as a consumer of media it made me think about sensationalist news stories and the need to engage critically.
While I appreciated Voumard's thoughtful exploration of the ethical issues, particularly around the journalist and the subject, I felt rather flat when I finished wondering whether there is any hope for a profession that has become some depleted by the 24 hour news cycle and an erosion of standards. My hope is that this book is read by journalists and students of journalism and it causes some introspection and reflection on the integrity of their profession.