Journalists cover, reflect on Hurricane Andrew 20 years later

Miami New Times | Society for News Design | Miami Herald
Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Florida 20 years ago this week. Chuck Strouse talks with fellow former Miami Herald reporters about how they covered the big storm. That coverage won them the 1993 Public Service Pulitzer, a high point in the newspaper’s history. Lizette Alvarez remembers being in a hotel in Florida City where guests had to “dash from room to room as the roof flipped off in chunks.” Ileana Oroza remembers an interaction with a subscriber the next day:

It was about 8 a.m. when the phone rang. One of the editors answered, and after a few seconds, said in a pleading voice: “Sir, we just had a hurricane.” The caller was an annoyed reader asking why his newspaper hadn’t been delivered.

Here are some visual highlights from the Herald’s coverage, from the Society for News Design :

Miami Herald Front Page Aug. 24, 1992: Special Edition

The Herald has an Andrew-centric package on its website, including an excellent story about how a zookeeper kept flamingos safe in his bathroom. How do you get flamingos into a bathroom?

Around 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 23, [Ron Magill] and a group of his co-workers climbed into the flamingo pond by the zoo’s entrance. They formed a half circle and started advancing on the flamingos.

“That’s when all of the sudden we go: OK, one, two go!” Magill said. “And everybody goes in and just grabs as many flamingos as they can.

“And then we’re handing them up – we’ve got people on the bridge — handing them one by one, and they’re walking them to the bathroom, letting them go in the bathroom, coming back, getting more. A person literally hand walks him, holds him up to his chest, hand walks to the bathroom, opens the bathroom door, lets ‘em go…. It’s the first flamingo that gets in the bathroom that’s kind of freaked out. Oh my God I’m the only one here! It’s just a lot of flapping — and flamingos make a very unattractive sound, RAWG RAWG RAWG…”

In a 1996 study of public perceptions of media coverage of Andrew, Paul Driscoll and Michael B. Salwen of the University of Miami found to their surprise that TV coverage in Miami was rated higher not just for trustworthiness but for expertise, something they further hypothesized was because “The study was confined to a local issue of great importance that was personally experienced, in varying degrees, by hurricane victims.” They conclude with a sentence that in retrospect, points to issues newspapers would encounter in non-extreme-weather situations as the two decades after Andrew passed.

As such, people monitored information about the hurricane to keep abreast of events dealing with urgent matters such as power restoration, insurance payments, garbage pickups, traffic patterns, school openings, and so forth. … Future research should compare the credibility of news sources where timeliness and personal relevance are not as crucial to the public. Under such a situation, newspapers might be valued for their expertise.

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