First responder journalists might face limited resources when covering a natural disaster

Hurricane loto

By Hannah Lester, hurricane coverage team member, senior at Auburn University, and reporter for the Auburn Plainsman.

People honor first responders who risk their lives during hurricane coverage. People criticize their public leaders who do not come to support those in need after devastation. Among the unsung heroes, though, are the journalists.

Reporters place themselves in harm’s way, entering a city as others are evacuating, in order to bring coverage and news to the public.

Jennifer Matthews

Jennifer Matthews, cross platform associate producer at CNN and guest booker, said that Myrtle Beach looks like a ghost town. Yet, she and her team are prepared to stay as long as they can.

The reality is: places are boarding up, people are evacuating and a hurricane is coming.

“We landed at like 10 and our producers told us immediately to go straight to a dollar store, grocery store,” Matthews said of the stores that were already closing. Matthews was buying supplies at a Food Lion when while checking out, they started boarding their windows.

These reporters may lose power; therefore, they have to prepare ahead of time for what may lie ahead.

Matthews said that they must bring lots of battery and necessary supplies.

CNN logo“We would really go and use all of our cellphone battery packs and work via email and hopefully there would be a generator somewhere,” Matthews said.

Those who are out in the field will need the battery power first. Electricity could be considered a valuable commodity when the power is out.

When hurricane coverage occurs, many reporters focus on homeless shelters and other organizations that are housing those evacuating but Matthews is focusing on the human interest.

Myrtle Beach is full of residents who don’t want to leave the home they’ve lived in for years, while mom and pop shops that stay open are preparing to help those who have stayed.

Matthews said that they will stay until their hotel begins to board up and at that point they will retreat to their vans. Because they are committed to coverage, they will not leave the area until forced to do so.

The reporters will “stick it out as long as possible out of a van,” Matthews said.

Zak Bennett
Zak Bennett, freelance photojournalist. Facebook photo

Zak Bennett is a freelance photographer who has arrived in the Carolinas to photograph Hurricane Florence.

There is still a lot to report as far as the actual people involved in these areas.

“The idea would be to head to the beach, and get like surfers or people on the beach, boarding up their windows, old shops, talk to some shop owners,” Bennett said.

Photographers need the right gear such as rain boots and jackets, covers for cameras and water protection gear, Bennett said.

For reporters on the scene during a hurricane, they have to be prepared for many different outcomes.

“Just backup for everything, lots of batteries, lots of lights, lots of cameras,” Bennett said. “Cause I really don’t know what’s gonna happen. This could turn into a non-story and I go home in 48 hours, but I’m ready for anything as well.”

Bennett has reported on hurricanes in the past. For Matthews, she is more used to tornadoes.

“Yes, it does make me just a little nervous simply because I am from Oklahoma, so I’m used to flat land and tornadoes wreaking havoc on flat land,” Matthews said. “It’s water, and water I feel like does more damage than a tornado … It’s what I signed up for.”

Hannah Lester
Hannah Lester

Hannah Lester is a senior studying journalism at Auburn University and is graduating in May 2019. She writes for the Auburn Plainsman newspaper as well as Auburn Glomerata and worked as an intern for Edible Nashville the summer of 2018. Lester is originally from Birmingham, Alabama.