August 25, 2017

When Rick Hirsch was a young reporter in the early 80s, he bought a print that showed four newspaper racks, three from Michigan and one from The Wall Street Journal. He kept it with him and hung it in his south Miami-Dade County home.

After Hurricane Andrew tore through Miami 25 years ago, after spending the night at The Miami Herald covering the deadly and devastating storm as acting city editor, Hirsch found the print of the newspaper racks the street from his home.

Now, it hangs in his office.

“If you look at it closely, you can see that it has the marks of having been through somewhat of an ordeal,” said Hirsch, the Herald’s managing editor.

The Herald devoted time and space on Thursday to remember the storm, to look at what’s changed since and what another hurricane might do to South Florida now. They didn’t retell the stories they’d lived through for the anniversary. Instead, they dug into the archives to share some of the original reporting that won staff a Public Service Pulitzer.

Meanwhile, in Texas, newsrooms are gearing up for something that looks pretty familiar to Hirsch.

“Andrew snuck up on everyone,” he said, “similar to Harvey.”

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Hirsch shared a few tips for newsrooms gearing up to cover a hurricane.

Don’t panic. “You are providing information so people can prepare and make sure they keep themselves and their families safe,” he said. “You need to provide useful information, without exaggeration or hysteria.”

Get staff ready in different places. There’s not a lot of precision in where the hurricane will hit land.

Pace yourself. “There’s preparing for the storm and a lot of important work to be done in connection to that,” he said, “and then you move into how to recover pretty quickly.”

Take care of your own stuff. “If you have not secured your home and made sure your family’s going to be in a place where they’ll be safe and they’ll have supplies, now’s the time to do it. Yesterday was the time to do it. You can’t presume access after the storm clears. If you’re going to be at the office, deployed, you can’t presume you can get to them.”

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A lot has changed in the 25 years since Hurricane Andrew hit Miami. And while the Herald has covered hurricanes since, they haven’t covered any storms like that one. Social media and technology now will have a huge part in how the news is covered and shared.

But at least one thing is probably the same.

“I think a lot of young reporters think hurricanes are exciting, and maybe I thought that before living through one,” Hirsch said. “The hardest work they’ll ever do is covering it, and then recovering from it themselves.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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