Cyclone Gabrielle: Special Free Edition
2024 Finalist

Cyclone Gabrielle: Special Free Edition


Hastings, New Zealand

Category Print

Media associated with this campaign

Overview of this campaign

The objective was to produce a print edition to inform an entire region scrambling to know what had hit it.

Cyclone Gabrielle was expected to cause a degree of damage in Hawke's Bay, but the extent of water that swept through caught authorities by surprise.

Hundreds were rescued from rooftops, thousands were initially missing, and what was thought to have been hardy infrastructure was swept away.

Napier's electrical transformer was submerged and failed, the main cables bringing internet and mobile phone capability to the region were severed. Some radio stations lost their infrastructure and couldn't broadcast.

Our team of 10 journalists and photographers were first on the scene of an unfolding disaster, documenting, interviewing and writing in harrowing conditions.

Many knew they would be unable to get back to their homes at night. One had to abandon a car. Another of our team was rescued off the roof of their home.

Without the ability to share our news to the region online, we felt we needed to use the power of print.

But the state of the roads and swept-away bridges in the region provided a distribution challenge.

We shifted our printing operation to a new press, and we decided our key goal from there was to get the paper into Napier.

An agreement was formed with Civil Defence to allow our trucks to cross one of the bridges into the city, which was not open to the public due to the risk it would face under in heavy traffic.

Print was as essential as food and water.

We gave each council in the region and Civil Defence a place for the public notices and collated the latest news, images, and details we felt people would need to give them the best chance to survive around them.

When we'd finished, we placed a headline that described how we were all feeling: 'Wiped Out'.

Results for this campaign

Ten thousand papers made it across the bridge into Napier on Friday, February 17.

They were bulk dropped around convenience stores, supermarkets, and other typical distribution centres.

Hawke's Bay Civil Defence were given several bundles to place into helicopters it was using to deliver supplies to far-flung flood-hit parts of the region.

Thousands flocked to get a copy, driven by word of mouth. By the end of the day, there were no copies left.

The paper was profiled around NZ in reviews of the week's events. Media commentator Gavin Ellis described it in these terms:

"In times of adversity, news organisations can rise to heights they never imagined. I am reminded of an event a quarter of a century ago when the Red River flooded, inundating the city of Grand Forks in North Dakota. Floodwater was followed by fire, which destroyed much of the downtown area including the newsroom and production plant of the Grand Forks Herald.

"There were hints of the Grand Forks Herald in the special editions produced by Chris Hyde and his team on Hawke's Bay Today, distributed free of charge, that were packed with vital information, updates on the levels of damage, and uplifting stories of courage and stoicism."

The front page, with photographer Warren Buckland's photo, was widely shared by international audiences. Guardian journalist Elle Hunt described it as "remarkable" and a "testament to the value of regional reporting".

When power and internet coverage returned over the next week and months, positive feedback poured in. There were thousands of comments on social media and as our phone lines returned, we were inundated with thank-you calls. Many noted they had no idea what had happened until they read it.

Reader Leanne Boyce summed up the sentiments of the community with this comment:

"When technology fails, it's the good old-fashioned newspaper that comes to the rescue to enable information to be provided. What a wonderful gesture to make it free."


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