Since we’re speaking primarily of our newsgathering colleagues, we don’t mind saying we’re exceedingly proud of being part of a profession that doesn’t take disasters off.
Our friends in print and broadcast journalism may not be as heroic as first-responders – but being “second-responders” isn’t anything to sneeze at, either.
The national news media were, as usual, among the first on the unmistakable trail of Hurricane Irma, getting the outside world – including evacuees from the hardest-hit areas – our first glimpses of the devastation and our first hints at the recovery ahead.
We’ll never know how much good reporting does for society – in this case, before, during and after a disaster. Pre-disaster reporting encourages hesitant residents to evacuate; meteorologists and news anchors give real-time information and warnings; and, as noted, plucky reporters and camera crews navigate treacherous streets and waters to show us what happened to our homes, neighborhoods and communities.
A television camera crew in Florida even caught looters, some of whom were duly arrested.
At the local level, our colleagues at The Chronicle and local TV news crews worked overtime to plan and execute coverage of Irma.
We can’t tell you – in part because it dizzies our own heads – all the moving parts in covering a local disaster. There are local authorities to query, nonprofits to track, evacuees to speak to, viewers and readers to inform about closings, shelter locations, incidents and more. And, of course there is always the daily news to account for.
In the case of a newspaper, there are press times and various print products to juggle. The Chronicle not only churns out numerous products in addition to the core newspaper – such as the weekly Applause entertainment section – but also manages six weekly regional newspapers.
In preparing for the worst, there are deadlines to move and schedules to move up – meaning our newsroom personnel must produce content at an accelerated pace in a very unsettled atmosphere. Like first-responders, “second-responders” have private lives and families and homes to think about even as they mobilize to bring you all the latest information.
In short, we have to change almost everything we’re doing, while at the same time trying to monitor what all the newsmakers are up to.
One other huge consideration for a newspaper is its carriers. As the forecast going into last weekend told of hurricane conditions Monday night/Tuesday morning, our No. 1 priority was the safety of the men and women who deposit The Chronicle on your driveway or doorstep in the wee hours. So, in an unconventional maneuver out of an abundance of caution, we delivered the Tuesday Chronicle beginning on Monday afternoon.
While it threw some of our readers to get the paper so early, it made some of us a bit nostalgic for the old evening newspaper! Still others of us got an early start on Tuesday’s Jumble word game.
These things, and more, were all up in the air as Irma blew toward us the week prior. And while we’re likely no different than most news outlets – imagine what our journalism cousins went through in Florida and Texas the past few weeks! – we’re so proud of all the gritty behind-the-scenes work it took to weather Irma and get the newspaper out.
There are always misfires when there are so many moving parts, but overall our feedback couldn’t have been much better. Over at The People Sentinel in Barnwell, S.C., our publisher Laura McKenzie and managing editor Jonathan Vickery asked Facebook followers how the paper did on its Irma coverage.
“Y’all were great!” wrote one follower. “Frequent updates on what really mattered to us. Considering everything going on and the chaos I was really impressed.” “Nice to get local information in uncertain times,” wrote another. Out-of-towners wrote that they depended on the newspaper for information about loved ones and property in Barnwell.
They should see how hard these people work at what they do.
If all this seems self-indulgent, perhaps it is. Then again, maybe not. The “media” – the unfairly overbroad term for all local and national news outlets of every kind, whether reliable or not, and whether dedicated to real journalism or not – suffer from a dismally low public regard: Americans’ trust in “the media” fell to an all-time low last fall in a Gallup question posed since 1972.
We like to remind folks – and often have to remind ourselves – that the word “media” is plural. Not all media are created equal.
We’re confident that if all media, particularly national media, would return to the basics of journalism and just tell folks the facts – and label opinion for what it is, which is opinion – they’d get the same high marks readers gave our co-workers in Barnwell.
Now that would be a big story.