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Home Local News North Florida Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here

Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here

  • Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here - 38321750001 5571258543001 5571258212001 vs - Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here

    Palm Bay mobile home park struck by tornado

  • Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here - 38321750001 5571242866001 5571242443001 vs - Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here

    Irma-spawned tornado strikes Palm Bay

  • Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here - 38321750001 5571243501001 5571245454001 vs - Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here

    Palm Bay tornado witnesses

Editor Bob Gabordi’s take? Journalists are public servants in times of crisis.

Rick Neale arrived home in Melbourne about 7:30 p.m. Sept. 5 from Houston, where he had been working 12- to 15-hour days reporting on the devastation from Hurricane Harvey for the USA TODAY NETWORK.

“Basically, when I landed, I just came to work and haven’t had a day off since,” the veteran FLORIDA TODAY reporter told me this week.

Neale was working in flooded neighborhoods. At one point, he was canoeing with a father and his daughter ferrying their most basic possessions and documents, listening to them tell their story. Another time, he was in tiny Wharton (population 9,000) wading through mud along with everyone else as the Colorado River overflowed its banks.

More: What it’s like flying with the 920th Rescue Wing

More: 920th Rescue Wing: What it’s like to hoist civilians (and animals) onto a helicopter

He was with reservists from the 920th Rescue Wing out of Patrick Air Force Base, and told the story of a dramatic rescue of a deputy sheriff and two women who were trapped inside a vehicle.   

Read more by Rick Neale: 920th Rescue Wing saves Harvey victims

Neale and John McCarthy, a FLORIDA TODAY editor also sent to Houston, rushed home when forecasts began calling for Irma, one of the largest Atlantic hurricanes in history, to target Brevard County.

I’m growing weary of the “fake news” labeling. There is nothing fake about the journalists I work with. There is nothing fake about a man or woman ignoring his or her own safety to tell a story or provide information that might help a fellow citizen.

I have nothing but the highest regard for our law enforcement officers, emergency first responders and the men and women who staff our Emergency Operations Centers. Rescuers from Patrick Air Force Base and the Civil Air Patrol who fly missions of mercy are made of the best stUFf.

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This week on FLORIDA TODAY’s Eye on Brevard, we’re looking at the impacts of Hurricane Irma across the Space Coast. Video by Luann Manderville and Rob Landers. Posted 9/13/17
Luann Manderville and Rob Landers

More: Hurricane Irma damage in Brevard: City by city

More: Hurricane Irma damage in Florida: City by city

God bless volunteers with the helping agencies, religious groups, the United Way and other organizations and private citizens, who drop everything to help strangers.

But my heroes have always been journalists.

People like my colleagues at the Naples Daily News and Fort Myers News-Press, who hunkered down in their buildings in the face of the monstrous Category 4 – sometimes Cat 5 – hurricane headed their way to be in position to be the eyes and ears of their communities and evacuees.

They are my heroes because with their own homes, possessions and lives at the mercy of a killer storm, these women and men did not blink, but stayed on the job to plan how to best serve their communities.

And so, too, are my former co-workers at the Tallahassee Democrat, who did the same, as a toned down, but still very dangerous Irma wormed its way north.

Along the Treasure Coast and in Brevard County, teams of journalists reported around the clock. Along with journalists from other USA TODAY NETWORK sites, including our colleagues outside the forecast cone at the Pensacola News Journal and from across the country, we were in position to become your eyes and ears.

Teams of journalists from several states and USA TODAY supported our coverage in various ways, including being ready to come in and take over coverage for us. Some did.  

Meanwhile, we had reporters embedded with Florida Power & Light and the state and local Emergency Operations Centers. FLORIDA TODAY’s Isadora Rangel was in the National Hurricane Center in Miami even as Irma smashed south Florida.

Read more by Isadora Rangel: Brevard’s winds will be higher than predicted

FLORIDA TODAY embedded a team at Orlando Melbourne International Airport and another stayed at our building on U.S. 1, not wanting to put all our people in one spot. If something went wrong at one location, we wanted to be able to report from the other.

Airport Executive Director Greg Donovan sent me a note after the storm.

“Your staff, exactly like other emergency responders such as fire and police, rise to the occasion to perform very important jobs when the public is evacuating.” Donovan said. “Only certain people can put their personal worries aside to do a job. Your team was always concentrating on their jobs and did a great service for our community.”

So my colleagues at FLORIDA TODAY and the Treasure Coast are my heroes, too. I’m truly blessed to work with them.

Adam Neale, editor of the Treasure Coast Newspapers and TCPalm.com talked about reporter Emily Bohatch. It was her first week on the job. She went out with a deputy from the Martin County Sheriff’s Office during the storm. Welcome aboard, Emily. This is what we do.

Read more from Emily Bohatch: Irma keeps fire rescue busy

At all our sites, a team of digital producers – people whose names you rarely see – worked around the clock to post updates and keep coverage fresh.

Consumers devoured our content over three days, with more than 7.5 million pages of content read across the Florida network and more than 3.5 million videos viewed. Evacuees and people who stayed invested whatever battery power they had to find out what was happening and what to expect next.

After the winds stopped, we dispatched Rangel to accompany a Key West evacuee on her journey home to better document the damage there and photographer Craig Bailey to shoot from the air with the Civil Air Patrol.

More: A photographer’s account of Irma’s damage in SW Florida

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Volunteer members of the Civil Air Patrol converge on Lakeland to aid in relief after Hurricane Irma. Video by Craig Bailey. Posted Sept. 14, 2017;

Meanwhile, even as we documented the damages, we reported aggressively on stores reopening, gasoline supplies, power outages and restoration, debris and garbage pickups, school openings and more.

Our goal across the network was the same: find a way to get the information to our communities when they needed it most. When roads were impassable or winds too high to deliver printed editions, we relied solely on our digital and mobile sites, which we opened for unlimited access to non-subscribers as a public service.

We used the power of Facebook to get out and tell you what was going on via live video reports. At one point, when the winds got too strong, I had to order a reporter to stay inside as he was running out the door to make another report.

There was nothing fake about that, either.

But, as Tallahassee DemocratExecutive Editor William Hatfield says, “sometimes superheroes sit at keyboards.”

Even as Irma was churning toward Florida, battering everything in its path, journalist Yoonserk Pyun began to brainstorm online tools that would help Floridians navigate life in the storm. Mashing up Google traffic data with FDOT traffic cams, he created a Florida Gridlock Guide that would help evacuees plot their routes in and out of the state, Hatfield said.

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After the storm, he tapped into a data set by the Florida Department of Emergency Management that showed the number of Floridians without power. It allowed readers and emergency planners to compare and contrast the power grid situations throughout Florida.

Both tools are available at data.tallahassee.com.

Our journalists did not escape unscathed, of course. Just like other citizens, some lost or had roofs damaged. Some had water damage. We lost fences and docks.

But we all stayed on the job, because it is what we do and because we love this place we call home. Just like you, we’ll fix the damage and chalk it up to the price of living in paradise.

And I’ll tell you, there’s nothing fake about that, either.    

Read more: Stories by Rick Neale from Texas

Read more by Rick Neale: What lurks in Harvey’s floodwaters

Read more by Rick Neale: Residents paddle through submerged streets

Read more by Rick Neale: Harvey catastrophic event in small town

Read more by Rick Neale: Journalist learns what it’s like flying with 920th 

Read more by Rick Neale: Florida airmen saving lives

Bob Gabordi is executive editor at FLORIDA TODAY. His direct dial number is 321-242-3607 and cell phone is 850-591-2229. He is @bgabordi on Twitter and /bgabordi on Facebook. You can also find him on LinkedIn. His email address is bgabordi@floridatoday.com.

  • Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here - 29906170001 5572782319001 5572783498001 vs - Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here

    Drone reveals Irma’s catastrophic wrath in east Naples

  • Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here - 29906170001 5572962498001 5572962749001 vs - Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here

    From the air, Irma’s catastrophic wrath is undeniable

  • Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here - 29906170001 5573503223001 5573498959001 vs - Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here

    Hurricane Irma wrecks southwest Florida neighborhoods

  • Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here - 29906170001 5570387417001 5570381648001 vs - Our Hurricane Irma coverage: No ‘fake news’ here

    Hurricanes Jose and Irma as Seen from Space

 

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