On Nov. 28, nearly three weeks after Hurricane Sandy devastated Long Island, five journalists gathered at Hofstra University to discuss their personal storm experiences and to describe how the storm will change the way in which the news industry deals with high caliber storms in the future.
The panel took place at 7 p.m. in Breslin Hall. The panel, which went by the name Covering Sandy: Amazing Tales and Lessons Learned, was hosted by The Press Club of Long Island and the Hofstra School of Communication. The panel consisted of speakers David North of WALK Radio, David Lopez of Newsday, Judy Martin of News 12, Bruce Avery of WRHU, and Kristen Maldonado, a senior journalism student at Hofstra.
Over the duration of the event, which ran for about an hour and a half, the journalists discussed how Sandy impacted the way in which they provided news to the people of Long Island and elsewhere.
“The biggest challenge was getting information to the subscribers,” said Lopez.
Lopez explained that Newsday knew that many people on Long Island had to deal with power outages and the inability to receive newspapers in the aftermath of Sandy. The publication figured that it had to pump as many resources into both the print and online editions of Newsday as possible. The staff believed that it could provide news for subscribers who would be able to charge their cellphones via cars.
Newsday was able to get a physical copy of the newspaper to 75 percent of its subscribers the day after Sandy struck and to an astounding 95 percent of subscribers the following day. Newsday supplied those who could get their hands on a physical copy of the newspaper with three straight weeks of 20 pages or more of Sandy coverage.
Radio was also a major point of concern for two of the panelists, North and Avery—both of whom deal heavily with news radio broadcasting.
“Radio is the foundation to get information when the power goes out,” said North.
North stressed the importance of radio during a time of crisis because of the easy accessibility of radio broadcasts, even despite power losses.
WALK Radio, despite having to overcome several obstacles, was able to provide continuous coverage to listeners as the storm progressed. The station’s main broadcast center, located in the Great South Bay, is located in an area that was one of the primary evacuation areas before Sandy hit. The members of WALK evacuated before the storm and were able to broadcast from a safer location.
Avery took to the notion that some people were not taking the pre-Sandy coverage seriously.
“We didn’t want people to think that since they were able to make it through Hurricane Irene and other storms that they didn’t have to take Hurricane Sandy seriously,” said Avery. “The ‘boy who cried wolf’ potential syndrome of broadcast meteorology is very serious.”
Avery then went on to detail his satisfaction with how Long Islanders prepared for Sandy. Many were able to avoid individual catastrophic impact, such as loss of life.
Martin felt that Irene impacted the way in which Long Islanders prepare for incoming storms.
“Hurricane Irene was a big lesson for everyone,” said Martin. “But maybe not a big enough one.”
Martin then went on to speak about her disbelief of the footage of Sandy damage—the most notable of which was the flooding that occurred in Manhattan. After seeing footage of cars floating down the street, Martin realized that transportation on Long Island would be hindered in the days after Sandy and that News 12 would have to focus on that side of the story as much as possible.
Of all of the panelists, Maldonado seemed to have the rawest experience in covering Sandy. She used only her cell phone and Twitter to report her findings.
“Without any team to work with, it was pretty much my cellphone and I,” said Maldonado.
This posed a problem for Maldonado, though, as she found that she constantly needed to find a way to power her cellphone to keep her coverage flowing.
Maldonado noted that she received a huge surge of followers in the time that she was covering Sandy, many of whom were extremely thankful for her coverage.
“I was shocked that people were actually following what I was covering,” said Maldonado.
The overarching message that the panelists were trying to send was clear. The damage that Sandy caused was catastrophic, but it could have been worse. The panelists stressed the importance taking evacuation warnings seriously so as to better prepare for future storms.
Originally published: The Hofstra Chronicle (November 29th, 2012, Page A-2)