As Hurricane Florence crashes into the Carolinas, student journalists report through the storm
NORTH CAROLINA — Alexis Wray, editor in chief of The A&T Register at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, is among the few who was looking forward to Hurricane Florence’s east coast arrival on Thursday.
“I am extremely excited,” Wray said. She’s not excited about the Category 2 hurricane, but does want to be a source of information and help her community.
Florence is clocking wind gusts of more than 105 mph and is expected to bring a massive storm surge and catastrophic flooding, according to the National Hurricane Center. At least 5.4 million people are under hurricane watches in the southeastern United States.
Wray has never experienced a hurricane before and is eager for the new reporting opportunity. “I want our student body and local community to see what’s going on,” she said.
Classes at North Carolina A & T in Greensboro were canceled on Wednesday through the remainder of the week. There was no formal evacuation order, but students were encouraged to go where they felt safe. The majority of colleges, universities and K-12 school districts across the Carolinas are closed until the end of the weekend at the earliest, with students and families encouraged to evacuate coastal areas.
Wray, who lives 15 minutes from campus, said close to half of the staff of 30 is staying to help provide live coverage of the storm.
The Register had already been providing coverage for days. On Thursday, The A&T Register posted videos on social media from students who had experienced hurricanes before, giving advice and calming nerves.
The A&T Register is also using infographics and updates on social media to keep their audience tuned into what is happening. If a tree falls or a building floods, The A&T Register will try to be there and get it on video.
The Daily Tar Heel, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Sharing Wray’s eagerness to do a good job is Rachel Jones, the editor-in-chief of University of North Carolina's The Daily Tar Heel. Jones is also staying on the Chapel Hill campus and turning her apartment into an editing bunker. Classes at UNC were canceled Tuesday night and the university is encouraging students to leave campus if possible.
Several other staff members plan to stay on campus with Jones and help report on Florence. Jones said for some, it’s safer to stay put because their families live close to the coast, which is one of the main reasons she is not going home herself.
Jones is no stranger to hurricanes. “I was born in a hurricane,” she said, and she has experienced several since. Jones’ sister was out of school for a month following hurricane Matthew, so she knows first hand that hurricanes are not to be taken lightly. “I think people who don’t worry about hurricanes are dumb,” Jones said.
The Daily Tar Heel is producing enterprise stories about the hurricane and the effects it will have on different populations in the county, including homeless, elderly and minority communities. Some neighborhoods around Chapel Hill are still recovering from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and Jones expects Florence to “compound the effects" of that damage and make matters worse for thousands.
The Chronicle, Duke University
The Chronicle at Duke University is planning campus wide coverage of its own.
Ben Leonard, managing editor for The Chronicle, and said the paper has a plan of action for covering the storm, involving reporters on all three Duke campuses to report through the weekend. The Chronicle will live blog as the hurricane passes over the area and do follow up reporting on its impact.
The Chronicle and The Daily Tarheel are also taking the opportunity to continue their rivalry online:
Chapin Student Press Network, Chapin High School
High school students in the Carolinas are doing their part too. Many school districts in North and South Carolina were preemptively closed in preparation for the storm. Some districts on the coast shuttered their doors as early as Tuesday to give families enough time to prepare and evacuate the area.
The staff of the Chapin Student Press Network at Chapin High School in South Carolina will be hard at work when they return to school, hopefully next week according to faculty adviser, Maurice Thomas. Thomas said via email that the staff will be encouraged to report on their experiences during the hurricane when they get back in the classroom.
Elon News Network, Elon University
Emmanuel Morgan, the student executive director of the Elon News Network at Elon (N.C.) University, said the network, which encompasses a broadcast station, student print newspaper and website, will be reporting on all aspects of the storm. He wants to attack the storm on all three platforms, but specifically over their website because it will be the fastest way to spread information.
Morgan said the network has pre-planned longer form stories that will be published gradually through the rest of the week. These stories are mainly about student evacuations, information on local shelters, and how to care for your pets on campus.
Twenty student reporters will be staying on campus to cover Florence from their dorm rooms and will be updating the Elon community from through photos and videos. Morgan said he wants to report as much as possible before the power likely goes out.
Morgan said staying on campus "was a tough decision,” but he stands by it because it is a “great opportunity” and the Elon News Network will be providing a public service by keeping the community informed.
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Sources for hurricane tips and safety
Hurricane Reporting tips:
Journalists along the southeast are reporting on Hurricane Florence. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are reporting from campus.
- No story is worth your life. If it is too dangerous go inside and get in a safe location.
- Protect your equipment.
- Charge everything you have in advance.
- Fill your car’s tank before the storm hits.
- Bring food and water wherever you go in case you can’t make it home (also goes for tissues and toiletries)
- Flashlights and batteries
- Plastic bags - put your phone or any electronics in the bag and you can still use them while keeping them safe from the elements
- Prepare yourself
- Wear clothes that you don't mind getting dirty and soaked.
- Rain boots, rain jacket, umbrella and a slicker
- Bring extra changes of clothes if you are going out into the storm
- Prepare for the mental toll. You will be seeing some devastation and people at their most vulnerable during and after the storm. Be kind to them and to yourself.
- Stay connected with law enforcement and trusted sources in the area in case you run into trouble.
- Learn from past coverage
- What did journalists get wrong in the past?
- Stay connected and share information with other journalists thought social media
- Avoid misinformation and check all sources and articles before sharing them
See more at The Poynter Institute