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Covering Hurricane Irene: The next few days and beyond

By Kyle Deas
Graduate student, University of Missouri

It’s looking increasingly likely that Hurricane Irene will wreak havoc up and down the Eastern seaboard this weekend. As the storm gathers strength and speed, you may be wondering how to cover its landing and the aftermath.

This past week, after an earthquake hit Virginia, we published a blog post called “Breaking New Tips: Resources to cover earthquakes, other natural disasters.” Some of the resources listed in that post were specific to earthquakes, but many also apply to covering hurricanes, including:

There are many other resources listed there, so check out the full blog post.

The next few days will be full of harried breaking-news coverage by reporters. But hurricanes are so vast and destructive that they often have a serious effect on people’s lives, and great investigative stories have been written months or even years after a hurricane has blown through.

For ideas for day-of coverage, here are some tipsheets you can check out:

  • Hurricane / Disaster CAR – The four hurricanes that battered Florida in 2004 made for one of the most remarkable, memorable, and costly hurricane seasons in history. John Maines, reporter for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, has suggestions and resources for reporters covering emergency situations, from the Federal Emergency Managment Agency, to private companies who provide images of destruction for free.
  • CAR for covering natural disasters – Another tipsheet by Maines outlining ways that investigative reporters can bring CAR ideas into breaking-news stories.
  • Mapping Data for News Stories and Graphics - David Herzog, an academic advisor to NICAR and IRE, offers concrete tips for bringing mapping into breaking news stories.

To give your readers some context about similar storms in the past, you can also check out IRE’s comprehensive Storm Events database.

In the aftermath of the hurricane there are many avenues for additional investigative stories. You could look into the environmental effects of the hurricane or whether shoddy building codes aided in the destruction. Or you could follow the money and look at the effects of the hurricane on the local insurance market, as Paige St. John did for her Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Florida’s Insurance Nightmare” for the Herald-Tribune (Sarasota, Fla.).

Whichever angle you choose, one of these tipsheets will contain helpful information:

  • Investigating the Aftermath of Disasters – Sally Kestin explains how she and other reporters at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel discovered and revealed $530 million in fraud and waste in FEMA disaster aid nationwide. Kestin also provides a list of sources for these types of stories.
  • CAR After the Disaster – This tipsheet is a good guide to investigating the government aid that generally follows large natural disasters. John Maines recommends various websites as a good starting point, and then offers advice for more detailed investigations.
  • Natural Disaster Investigations – This tipsheet describes how IRE Award Finalist authors Kestin and O’Matz gathered information for their story “Cashing in on Disaster.” They give hints as to what questions to ask and what money to follow when sorting through information after a storm.
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