The Media and the Massacre: Port Arthur 1996-2016

Sonya Voumard

The Media and the Massacre: Port Arthur 1996-2016
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The Media and the Massacre: Port Arthur 1996-2016

Sonya Voumard

‘An unflinching dissection of the relationships between journalists and their subjects - a compelling exposé of journalistic culture.‘ John Dale, author of Huckstepp

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 received an undisclosed legal 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.

Review

In The Media and the Massacre: Port Arthur 1996–2016 journalist Sonya Voumard examines the fallout from the 2009 publication of best-selling book Born or Bred? Martin Bryant: Making of a Mass Murderer, written by fellow journalists Robert Wainwright and Paola Totaro, and their use of Carleen Bryant’s personal memoir.

Voumard examines her own role, and that of journalists more broadly, when covering events involving emotional trauma and loss. Drawing on Janet Malcolm’s seminal text The Journalist and the Murderer, Voumard is particularly attuned to the moral impasse built into the journalistic situation, and maintains an open dialogue about her own process in her attempt to understand what has transpired between Martin Bryant’s mother Carleen and the journalists who wrote Born and Bred? and the breakdown of the relationship between them.

Janet Malcolm examines the idea that books can become a living thing, and Voumard traces the rift that opens between the subject and the journalist/author’s instinctive pursuit of ‘the story’, not only between Bryant and Wainwright/Totaro; but also between herself and these subjects she attempts to understand. She is frank and exhaustive in the search for answers, openly grappling with the temptation to delve deeper and the risk of re-traumatising her subjects.

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 works as a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.

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