Reporters reflect on covering a tragedy in Argentina

Covering the dramatic collapse of a supermarket roof in Neuquén, Argentina, on Oct. 25, proved to be a challenge for journalists.

At least, that is how reporter Guillermo Berto saw the catastrophe--seven dead, at least 17 missing and the arrest of suspects--the time of the cave in--7:45 p.m.--and the uncertainty "that ruled the first hours after the event." All these circumstances came together to make covering the tragedy more difficult.

"The coverage was intense, it demanded a lot of effort, many hours and it pushed us to the limit of our professional capacity," Berto told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

Considering the trials of covering an event like this and the few spaces available to talk about the topic, Berto invited a group of reporters from different media outlets to reflect on what happened during that night. On his blog, Fuera del Expediente, and in collaboration with reporters Laura Loncopa, from the website 8300 Web, and Federico Aríngoli, of Neuquén al Instante, Berto created a space for reflection.

"Save for a few exceptions, the coverage was responsible and prudent. What there was was a clear demand to identify those responsible for the tragedy. We felt a calling to look for and tell the story of those who were in charge of the project," Berto said.

Radio reporter Virginia Pirola said that one of the biggest problems was the lack of collaboration between official voices who did not want to provide information, making it that much more difficult.

Sebastián Lafón, photojournalist, called attention to how little news companies wanted to invest in improving coverage and said it was important to have a manual to help cover these kinds of situations.

For online reporter Federico Aríngoli, the greatest hurdle to reporting on the scene was communicating what was happening despite the poor flow of information. He underlined that regardless of being there, live on the scene, there was a limit to what he should or should not show.

Finally, journalist and professor Fabián Bergero, highlighted that a journalist's function is to reduce anxiety in the community through the appropriate information. That is why it is important to evaluate the information released, who the reporter interviews and to carefully manage social networks.

"Out of this project came calls to create new spaces for exchange that allow us to think of our roles and the professional boundaries we are willing to rework today. I believe that many of us want to say what we thought was bad, good, how we responded, what we saw, among other things," Aríngoli added.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.