Kim Mackrael is a reporter based in the Globe and Mail‘s Ottawa bureau. She reported from Lac-Mégantic on two separate occasions, first, immediately after the explosion, and then in August, to help fellow Globe reporter, Justin Giovanetti with the paper’s extensive feature on the final hours in Lac-Megantic before the explosion claimed the lives of nearly 50 people.
LISTEN: Mackrael on interviewing residents in Lac-Megantic: “People were really in a state of shock.”
Mackrael says that her two largest ethical concerns while reporting in the town were pursuing accuracy while behaving humanely in interviewing victims.
For the Globe and Mail, accuracy became particularly important after the Journal de Montréal printed a photo spread of allegedly missing members of the Lac-Mégantic community, only to discover later that many of those featured were either alive and well locals, or no longer residents. This incident (which will be further discussed below) played a major role in Mackrael’s subsequent choices about which sources to deem reliable.
See the Globe’s feature here: Last moments of Lac-Mégantic: Survivors share their stories
“One thing that we were trying to do was get some confirmation of the people that were missing, and there was a lot of news going around about the number and the names,” Mackrael said in a phone interview. “It was sort of relying on varying degrees of quality of information, because sometimes it would be based on a Facebook post somebody did, or it would be just based on somebody not having seen someone for a while.”
Community confusion only amplified the amount of misinformation that was circulating. Mackrael and her fellow reporters sometimes chose not even to trust the word of a family member or close friend. “We tried to talk over and be careful about how to handle that information as it was coming and how close somebody had to be for us to feel comfortable saying, ‘it’s very likely that this person is missing in the accident,’ as opposed to, ‘someone just hasn’t seen this person for a while,’” she said. “I think the standard for us in putting things together was, if a family member who could say with confidence that that person had been downtown that night and hadn’t been seen since.… There were times that we chose not to rely on [even] that as enough.”
Besides the local confusion, there was also an enormous amount of grief amongst the residents of Lac-Mégantic, a situation Mackrael urged other reporters to approach with a situational ethical approach, according to the persons emotional state and desire to talk. “You sort of just had to take it on a personal basis,” Mackrael said. “I think just sort of be respectful of where people were at with their interest in speaking. I think some people do find it very useful or cathartic. I think some people do appreciate an opportunity to tell a story about something like that where, you know, … they’re missing somebody or they don’t know what’s happened to someone, or they’ve found out that something has happened.”
Tweets from Mackrael in the days following the event:
Cylindrical tanks still on the tracks in Nantes, Que., about 10 km north of Lac Megantic pic.twitter.com/0ZrnsSxiox
— Kim Mackrael (@kimmackrael) July 7, 2013
TSB confirms that a rail company representative was with firefighters at train when blaze broke out before crash in #lacmegantic
— Kim Mackrael (@kimmackrael) July 9, 2013
Tank cars piled on top of eachother in #lacmegantic pic.twitter.com/WogiyxpidB
— Kim Mackrael (@kimmackrael) July 11, 2013
People gather on the steps of Ste.-Agnes church in #lacmegantic one week after fatal train derailment pic.twitter.com/U5gkqNnfJB
— Kim Mackrael (@kimmackrael) July 13, 2013
Next: First Hand: Andy Blachford of the Canadian Press