New Zealand earthquake
Credit: Image by NZ Defence Force on Flickr. Creative commons licence. Some rights reserved

When a series of earthquakes hit Christchurch, New Zealand in 2010 and 2011, the editorial team at the city's title The Press moved newsrooms 14 times in six months.

Andrew Holden, who is now editor-in-chief of The Age, Australia, was editor of The Press when disaster struck. He told the story at the World Editors Forum, being held in Bangkok this week.

A Novotel meeting room, the cafe of the cathedral, the printing room canteen and a series of portacabins were among the temporary newsrooms.

The first earthquake hit on 4 September 2010, which resulted in the first move, initially to a hotel and then to the cathedral cafe.

On 22 February 2011 a major earthquake struck killing 185 people. The newsroom suffered severe damage, with the top half of the top floor collapsing. A member of The Press staff died, several were injured, including one woman who lost her legs, Holden explained. The newsroom ended up moving outside to a public park.

So how did the reporters carry on doing their jobs while facing the effects of the quake? Holden, shared three key leadership lessons he learned and advised delegates at the conference on how to prepare their own teams in case disaster strikes.

Lessons from a crisis:

1. Have conversations in case disaster strikes

Prepare yourself in advance, he said. The "most important conversation" to have is the one with your family. "Talk to your family about what you want to do if there is a crisis," he advises. Discuss where your obligation lies and whether you would spend time at home or running the newsroom. "Have that conversation early and it will help," he said. He explained he had not had that conversation and found himself torn between his work responsibilities and those of having a six-month old baby.

He also advised preparing all your staff, so the news outlet could function if your "A team", your best sub-editor, your best graphics people, were not available, as they could be on holiday at the time.

2. Be human

Listen to colleagues, Holden said. "Be honest and seek help," he added.

3. Let your staff do their job

He said a crisis is not time for the boss to write the front page story. The most senior member of staff should instead "focus on the outside" by talking to the community.

Share the news outlet's story, he said. "We are so used to telling everyone else’s story, but tell the story of what you do and why that matters. Say yes to radio and TV interviews," he said.

Following the deadly earthquake, the original newsroom of The Press was demolished, as was 80 per cent of Christchuch, Holden said.

Last May the staff of The Press moved from the "portacabin village", which housed 200 people, and into a newly built newsroom. is in Bangkok for the World Editors Forum. Follow @SarahMarshall3, @JohnCThompson and #editors13 for updates.

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