Ben Franklin Journalism

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Citizen Journalism 101: Breaking News can happen at any moment

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      Most times, you have to dig really hard to get the story. You have to research, conduct extensive interviews, and analyze answers and data to come to some semblance of the truth.

      And, sometimes, the story just lands in your lap.

      Normally, I post my Ben Franklin Journalism update on Wednesday afternoon, largely because it’s the easiest day of the week in my normal work schedule, and provides ample time to think about what I will write in the evening for the post. This week, however, I was a little bit busy Wednesday afternoon and evening.

      Around 5 p.m., I received word that two tornadoes had struck the small town of Lenox, Iowa, approximately 20 miles northeast of Clarinda. While it’s not in our primary coverage area, it is just outside of it, and it is in the coverage area of our parent newspaper, The Omaha World-Herald.

      The initial damage reports were fairly innocuous, suggesting a couple of homes experienced roof damage. And, knowing my evening would otherwise be open, I volunteered to take photos for our parent.

      When I arrived in Lenox, I knew the situation was far worse than the original damage reports suggested. A police officer was at the main northern entrance into the community, turning “gawkers” away. I used my World-Herald Company security badge as proof that I was a working journalist.

      A few seconds later, I was staring at Ground Zero, the city park. Not many trees survived the twisters, both of which went right through the park and were later rated EF0 and EF1 in strength. City and county road crews were already hard at work, clearing debris from the streets nearby.

      Power lines were down, and much of the park sustained moderate to severe structural damage. Damage to nearby houses ranged from nothing at all to shredded roofs and second floors ripped away.

      Talking briefly with law enforcement, I discover no one was injured, but there had been a few stories of people who rode out the tornadoes without the option of retreating to a basement or storm cellar. Jotting notes as I went around and took photos of the damage, I was quickly putting together the pieces of the story together in my head.

      Then, I met Austin Miller.

      The 11-year-old boy was home alone when the sirens sounded. His mother, an employee at the local grocery store, called him and told him to go to the laundry room, because they didn’t have a basement. So, he did.

      But, he also decided to take the unconventional step of holing himself up in the dryer.

      Within a second of closing the door, he said something made of glass hit the door. After the storm subsided, the roof of the laundry room had been ripped away, and there was glass strewn all over and vegetative debris pelted on the walls.

      Austin was completely unscathed.

      And, I got his story completely by accident.

      I was simply looking for reaction comments from the occupant of the home, which was clearly destroyed by the tornado. When I asked someone standing outside the home if he was the homeowner, he quickly said, “No,” and told me both the homeowner and the renter were inside, surveying the damage.

      “But, he was home alone,” the man told me, pointing toward Austin.

      As I said, sometimes the news just lands in your lap. The fact that he was completely traumatized by the experience, and was more than willing to talk about it, was an incredible coup for a journalist. That his mother was willing to let him be interviewed was priceless.

      The lesson to be learned from all of this is pretty simple: always be ready for the news to happen, because it will happen whether you’re there or not.

Written by bfranklinjournalism

May 13, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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