The history of Hurricane Sandy cannot be written instantly. In the aftermath of such a savaging, getting it all down—on paper or at a keyboard—is a frustrating exercise. In Journalism 101 courses, there often is one class that is interrupted by a commotion—a door flies open, someone rushes in, there is a loud exchange of words, maybe even a gunshot, and then the interloper flees, slamming the door behind him or her. The class is jangled, then relieved to find it has all been a ruse. The professor directs the students to write down what just happened—what they saw and heard. Fifty witnesses begin writing; fifty conflicting accounts are handed in.
In Sandy 101, hundreds of thousands of Americans—and uncounted numbers of visitors—witnessed the storm, and it was no ruse. It came through their doors and into their living rooms. It was loud, it was angry, and it exploded right in front of them. Lives were lost; homes demolished; neighborhoods burned to the ground or were swept out to sea.
How can it all be written down? It’s too early to expect more than then basics; The what, where and when. The who? We’re still finding the lost, counting the dead and watching heroes emerge. The why? That’s not so easy. Maybe impossible. Headlines attempt to encapsulate the misery, pain and hopelessness, but even the most well-meaning, on-the-scene reporters are thwarted by the scale of the beast’s leavings. This is not a time to try to tell the big story. Was this the result of climate change? Could steps have been taken to mitigate the damage? Historians tell us we need some sorting-out time, and that can take years.
For now, the best reporting will happen when the process of the recovery and the people who power it are documented; when journalists, photographers and videographers take the time to show us that we are a resilient bunch, capable of shaking off the shock, ready to rebound and rebuild. Stories of individuals overcoming their hardships or caring for others; stories of construction companies donating time and materials to lift communities out of their waterlogged ruins; stories of how government—not just bi-partisan-agreeable, but truly unified—can be helpful by cutting red tape, creating, not hindering, opportunities for fast-tracked regrowth.
Those are the compelling assignments today. I hope we see a lot of those stories in the near future, because in these unsettled times, we can use some reassurance that all will be well, that no matter the depth of our national despair, we strive and we win.
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