Sonya Voumard’s The Media and the Massacre is a chilling portrayal of journalism, betrayal, and storytelling surrounding the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. Inspired, in part, by renowned American author Janet Malcolm’s famously controversial work The Journalist and the Murderer, Voumard’s elegant new work of literary non-fiction examines the fascinating theme of ‘the writer’s treachery.’ The author brings to bear her own journalistic experiences, ideas and practices in a riveting inquiry into her profession that is part-memoir and part ethical investigation.
One of her case studies is the 2009 book Born or Bred? by two prominent journalists—Robert Wainwright and Paola Totaro—about the perpetrator of the Port Arthur massacre, Martin Bryant, and his mother Carleen Bryant. Carleen sued, and received an undisclosed settlement, over the best-selling book’s use of her personal manuscript.
In the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre, The Media and the Massacre explores the nature of journalistic intent and many of the wider moral and social issues of the storytelling surrounding the events and their place in our cultural memory.
Voumard delicately steps around the issues of copyright and authority, ethics and responsibility, and the implications of writing this story. She admits, ‘For a journalist, the adrenaline – like the heart surge triggered by a new lover – kicks right through your guts as soon as a big story breaks … writing stories about life and death can induce a drug-like sensation.’
Voumard interviews a wide network of people, and intersperses extracts from the public record with her own experiences as she revisits landmarks and reflects on the trauma of the massacre. The result is a compelling and engaging book that speculates on the role of the journalist and more widely on the industry itself, raising questions that linger in the mind of the reader.
Anaya Latter, Readings Monthly April 2016
A fascinating case study in media betrayal . … An intelligent reflection on the two faces of journalism: a noble pursuit of truth and an exploitation of individual rights.
Carol Middleton, Australian Book Review April 2016
The Media and the Massacre is an important book in the canon of literature that examines the pitfalls of journalistic work and the ethics surrounding the relationship between reporters and their subjects. It raises important issues about the ways in which journalists communicate with their subjects, especially when working on books or longer form journalism and collaborative projects, in order to prevent fallout (of both the ethical and legal variety) at a later date. And it also highlights the ways in which journalistic behaviour has ramifications for the people who are interviewed in the aftermath of tragic events whether these be victims, first responders or eyewitnesses. It shows, as Voumard so eloquently writes at the outset, how journalists constantly tread a difficult, sometimes morally ambiguous, line:
At our best, we do good work — bear witness, seek truth, give voice, explain. At our worst we exploit our subjects.