Arriving in California yesterday for the 2017 SPJ Excellence in Journalism conference was anti-climatic. Usually I am excited about attending this annual conference in different parts of the country each year: the workshops, networking, reconnecting with other journalists, and great keynote speakers.
But this year my mind is in the U.S. southeast, SPJ Region 3, as the worst hurricane to develop in Atlantic Ocean’s history, Irma, is looming to hit our region. We are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Last night my niece and her fiance from south Miami arrived in my apartment in Atlanta around 1 a.m. after a long trek through Florida. They are safe. But I am concerned about my fellow SPJers in our region.
And I feel guilty about attending EIJ17.
I am distracted. And so are many Region 3 journalists attending this conference.
CNN is on in my hotel room all the time. And my eyes are quickly drawn to the hotel’s bars television reporting on Irma as I pass by to go to the convention center. I check my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram social media frequently. I send messages to journalists I know that are preparing for this storm. I have asked some of them to reconsider leaving Florida. Colleges and universities are closing in Region 3 and many of our SPJ members who teach our SPJ student members are relocating to higher ground.
This is our region, our neighbors, our SPJ people. Like Texas’ news organizations during Hurricane Harvey, journalists are hunkered down to ride out the storm and to do their jobs. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers.
I may be called up for news coverage deployment, and I might have to leave the conference early to cover the Georgia coast. Part of me wished I would have never left Georgia.
So if you are at EIJ17 and you see journalists and students from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, understand if they don’t seem like themselves. Their bodies may be in Anaheim, but their hearts and minds are in Region 3. Also recognize that Texas journalists are still stinging from Hurricane Harvey.
Sharon Dunten is a freelance journalist and Assistant Regional Director – SPJ Region 3.