NYT‘s Brian Stelter’s Joplin Reporting: How To Inform Through Personal Experience

The New York TimesBrian Stelter recently visited tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri. He live-Tweeted much of his visit and, now, has assembled his thoughts together in a Tumblr post.

Here’s a taste:

I’m aware that what I’m going to say next will probably sound petty, given the scope of the tragedy I was witnessing. But the lack of cell service was an all-consuming problem. Rescue workers and survivors struggled with it just as I did.

What I learned: It’s easy to scoff at the suggestion that satisfactory cell service is a matter of national security and necessity. But I won’t scoff anymore. If I were planning a newsroom’s response to emergencies, I would buy those backpacks that have six or eight wireless cards in them, all connected to different cell tower operators, thereby upping the chances of finding a signal at any given time.

This is my first time coming upon a natural disaster as a reporter. I suppose my instinct should be “first, do no harm.”

Stelter’s humble, somewhat awestruck look at the people and places impacted by the deadly tornado offers a bookend, of sorts, to the sort of coverage done by the class of celebrity journalists that perform the news for us regularly.

Our managing editor, Colby Hall, recently took an in-depth look at CNN’s Anderson Cooper Joplin coverage. In Cooper’s case, the news is shown through the lens of his own experience rather than framed by the circumstances facing those who turned around to find their homes demolished, their street unrecognizable, and their friends lost. Stelter’s account is, yes, done in the first person, but it’s presented as an account of how one reporter’s difficulties and challenges are representative of a larger reality, both for his fellow journalists and for those who live and work in Joplin.

Personal accounts work, both in reporting and casual blogging, because they help ground vast, intangible concepts like terror or hopelessness in something based in reality, and help to give an experience a name and a face. They’re helpful, if not vital, in helping those outside a news story understand it more fully and more completely. Stelter’s reporting shows that it is still possible to present information and personal experience in a way that remains completely newsworthy.

Do check out his Tumblr if you get the chance.

h/t …The Deadline

Have a tip we should know?

  1. Mediaite
  2. The Mary Sue
  3. RunwayRiot
  4. LawNewz
  5. Gossip Cop