Facing the cruelty of context

March 19, 2018

CONTEXT is the catch-cry of many who claim to have been misquoted or seen part-stories told about them. Most often in the media. 
But in Melbourne on Friday night I had a disturbing, even distressing, revelation about real context. 
Our paper had been nominated for an award for its coverage of the alleged murder tragedy on the Murray last year when one child was drowned, another rescued during a dog attack and the mother of the two boys arrested. 
Against all the odds – little non-daily regionals rarely succeed at this level – we were named the winners. And that description could not have been more wrong or more distressing. 
Naturally there was all the excitement of the moment, applause from our big city peers and the presentation of the trophy. 
But once the initial rush faded we sat at our table and as a group reflected on what had just happened. 
Last week in my column I previewed this award night as a ‘fun’ experience. 
I can’t believe I did that. I was wrong. So carelessly wrong and unprofessionally trivial. 
As a single mother of two beautiful children Friday night made me realise how lucky I have been in my life. 
And it made my heart ache for the suffering this family, about whom we had written so much, has gone through – and still is going through. 
When the story was unfolding a team of us were involved in its coverage and the work we did was thorough, professional and by far the best coverage in the country. 
But I now realise the real story was behind the scenes, will last a lifetime for the surviving boy and his grandparents, who have been thrust back into the responsibility of raising a young child and are trying their hardest to make a future for their beautiful little grandson. 
Their struggle, and hopefully its success, will never get the headlines of the original story because the world, the media and the moment have moved on. 
But the family haven’t – and they can’t. 
As all this sank in at the Palladium in the Crown on Friday night. 
I knew we had not done this family and this story justice. 
While we were there on the weekend it happened we were not the frontline first responders; that was the police and then the emergency services. 
Who spent hour after hour, day after day, trying to cope with the enormity of not what had just happened, but with the emotionally draining search for the five-year-old’s body, dealing with the devastated immediate family and trying to understand how they could achieve any resolution with any of it. 
They couldn’t. 
Events such as these scar everyone involved. 
There were no winners here. 
We might have a trophy but there were no prizes. Everyone was a loser. And this was never a competition. 
If I was able to sit down with the grandparents, knowing how hard it is to raise children when you are still young, I would want to sincerely, genuinely, apologise for anything I had done, we had done, that had in any way marginalised their pain and suffering. 
Will the media cover the next, similar story, in much the same way as we did this one? 
Almost certainly. 
Would I do everything I did in this story, would we do everything we did with it? 
And no. 
Because with the benefit of hindsight, with the realisation of how raw this tragedy still is in so many lives, I would endeavour to try and provide not just the immediate drama but the full story. 
The story of the collateral damage, of the years of hard slog ahead for this shattered family to try and salvage some kind of future and of its impact on everyone who went through it with them. 
And sadly I fear there would still not be any winners.

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