‘Covering a catastrophe’ at #CMANYC13

I attended a seminar called “Covering a Catastrophe” at this year’s College Media Association’s spring national college media convention in New York City (March 9-12, 2013).  Staten Island Advance Associate Managing Editor Clair Regan (who also works at Wagner College) explained how she and her newspaper covered natural disaster Hurricane Sandy.

According to the seminar’s description in the Official Convention Program, “The associate managing editor of the Staten Island Advance will share her experience as a journalist working on – and living through – Hurricane Sandy.”

She said first, she began preparing for storm coverage by warning readers, raising awareness, and minimizing harm.  She advised to do these things every day, regardless of there being a catastrophe.

She said it’s important to be able to multitask as a journalist.

On Monday, October 29, when the storm came, she said she multitasked – she was both in the office and out on the streets looking for stories as the storm moved closer.

Regan said because road conditions were dangerous, the paper decided not to publish a Wednesday edition (the Advance is a daily), but updates were continuous on the newspaper’s website silive.com.

On Wednesday, October 31, the newspaper became an info center – people called to learn about recent updates.

Regan said that Thursday was the fourth day the majority of the town was without power and there was a gasoline shortage.  Phones were ringing off the hook at the newspaper office, which she said doesn’t happen a lot now.

The death toll grew from four to fourteen and rumors spread about the number of deaths.

On Friday, November 2, the Advance heard complaints about the slow response from city agencies and the government.

Regan said the paper received confirmation that President Obama would visit New York City to assess the storm damage – he went to Staten Island.

She said aerial photos gave readers a better understanding of the devastation.

Following the storm, there was an ongoing story of community, survival, generosity, and strength.  There was debate over whether to restore or rebuild.

The paper then started work for a hardcover book documenting the hurricane and its aftermath (It was expected to be out at the end of March; there are a total of 160 pages).

Regan said to always try to go and see what’s happening – don’t just write from the newsroom.

She said, as an ethics fellow at Poynter Institute, to figure out if you are a journalist or a human first.  She said she developed the ability to be both during Hurricane Sandy.

Regan said to multitask and have compassion.

For more #CMANYC13 tips, check out my posts ‘Thinking like an editor’ at #CMANYC13, ‘Passing the magazine test’ at #CMANYC13 and ‘Becoming a pitch-perfect writer’ at #CMANYC13.

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