2019 Breaking News, Large Newsroom finalist

Christchurch Terror Attacks


About the Project

On Friday March 15, 2019 at 1.40pm, a gunman opened fire in a Christchurch mosque, killing dozens of men, women and children while they prayed. He then drove across town to attack another mosque. When his rampage ended, 49 people were dead. Two more died in hospital. Another 40 were seriously injured.

It was the first racially-motivated mass shooting in New Zealand – a self-proclaimed white supremacist targeting Muslims at worship – all the more shocking for a country with minimal gun crime.

Stuff’s Christchurch newsroom was alerted to a possible shooting minutes after it began. Our visual journalist George Heard was the first media at Al Noor mosque. Reporter Blair Ensor arrived moments later by Lime scooter to armed police ordering him to take cover.

Just 17 minutes after shots were fired, Stuff was the first media organisation in the world to publish the developing story – sending a push alert at 1.57pm warning of “a major incident”. A second notification four minutes later reported “at least 20 gunshots and three bodies on the ground”.

At 2.11pm, our live coverage launched. What began as a breaking news file with vital security details and updates became a 15-day blog with 792 posts, videos and images.

In those first 36 hours, our priority was to work fast and be first with solid, reliable information the country could trust.

With little detail coming from police, we mobilised all possible resources – in addition to our 17-strong Christchurch team, four reporters and visual journalists were flown in. Forty-six journalists from bureaus across the country worked in shifts to ensure 24/7 coverage.

In the immediate aftermath, our live blog was the core source of information for Christchurch. We reported on the victims, planned memorial services, investigations, government response and gun law debate. We shared public notices, ways to help, messages of support and responded to questions in real time.

That live file received over 2.6 million page views in the first day.

As the scale of the tragedy unfolded, Stuff poured resources into coverage and analysis:

  • We captured the raw emotion in the minutes after the attack, and eyewitness accounts from inside the mosques.
  • We broke news of top-level crisis meetings at Parliament.
  • We exposed concerning loopholes in NZ’s gun laws.
  • We spoke to the heroes who tried to stop the gunman.
  • We explored how technology spread ideologies of hate and Facebook’s struggle to stop the live video of the massacre.
  • We detailed the significance of targeting Friday prayers.
  • We reported the shooter’s background.
  • We captured the sadness and horror from across NZ, and Jacinda Ardern’s response which would capture world headlines.

Within 24 hours we confirmed 48 people had died (the death toll would later climb). The youngest victim was 3. By Saturday evening, we published an interactive that identified and told many of their stories, explored the reaction and included a detailed map and timeline. We updated as victims were identified.