Newsrooms go into overdrive as Florence bears down on the Carolinas

As Hurricane ...

Posted: Sep 13, 2018 5:29 AM
Updated: Sep 13, 2018 5:29 AM

As Hurricane Florence hurdles toward the Carolinas, news outlets are ramping up -- and in some cases, opening up -- their coverage of the storm.

The major network newscasts will broadcast from the storm zone beginning Wednesday night, with CBS' Jeff Glor, ABC's David Muir and NBC's Lester Holt all being deployed to the Carolinas.

Reporting on location during a major hurricane is standard practice for a network news anchor. And Florence is indeed expected to be major. The National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina, said it will likely be "the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast."

CBS, ABC and NBC will also have correspondents reporting throughout the eastern seaboard, where Florence is expected to reach landfall by this weekend.

Glor will be in the storm zone through the weekend, according to a CBS spokesperson. A spokesperson for NBC said Holt is "committed to staying on the ground through the worst of the storm and aftermath," while an ABC spokesperson said that Muir will be there as long as necessary.

The volume of news coverage is commensurate with the severity of Florence, which was reduced to a Category 3 storm on Wednesday, a level that still makes it a "major hurricane," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But few outlets can match the intensity of coverage of The Weather Channel, for which an event like Florence might well be the top story of the year.

Nora Zimmett, senior vice president of content and programming for The Weather Channel, said it will have 18 crews comprised of nearly 100 people in the storm zone. It will be full bore for employees there.

Zimmett said The Weather Channel has a special storm lodging service that is in charge of booking rooms for crews all around the National Hurricane Center's forecast cone -- or the likely path of the storm -- and the company has dozens of air mattresses and bedding for overnight shifts. The Weather Channel will deploy fuel trucks up and down the coast, while employees will be provided four meals a day on site.

"We have unmanned live cameras placed in the worst storm surge zones where it is not safe to staff people," Zimmett said. "We will be live on the air 24/7 for at least a week and likely longer."

Those in the southeast will likely feel Florence's wrath even before it reaches land. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said residents in the central part of his state "should be prepared to feel the impact of the storm from Thursday night through at least Monday," and that could include flooding and prolonged power outages.

Those with power -- and a stable internet connection -- will have no shortage of news resources, so crucial at a time when accurate, up-to-date information can be as essential as food and water. CNN is offering a text-only version of its top stories online for those in Florence's path who are battling a weak phone connection.

The big three cable news networks have provided updates on the storm throughout the week, with CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all displaying radar images of Florence's path. CNN, Fox and MSNBC will also have their own correspondents in the storm zone.

Looking for local coverage? Some of the largest newspapers in the Carolinas have dropped paywalls to their sites, providing readers with unrestricted access during the storm.

In North Carolina, the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News & Observer have provided full access to their sites during the storm. Both papers are owned by McClatchy, which also owns newspapers in Durham, North Carolina, and in Rock Hill, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, and Hilton Head, all of which are in South Carolina.

Sherry Chisenhall, executive editor of The Charlotte Observer, said all of the company's newspapers in the Carolinas have lowered their paywalls.

Chisenhall told CNN that every person on the Observer's staff is being deployed for storm coverage in Charlotte, and the paper sent a team to help its sister paper in Myrtle Beach.

The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, has had its paywall down since Monday. The paper's executive editor, Mitch Pugh, told CNN that half of his 75-person newsroom will be covering the storm, with three journalists in Myrtle Beach, four in Columbia and one in North Carolina.

Elsewhere in the region, the Asheville Citizen Times of North Carolina and the Greenville News of South Carolina, both a part of the USA Today Network, have also had paywalls dropped since Monday.

Katrice Hardy, the executive editor of the Greenville News, said the paper has reporters all over the coasts of both Carolinas, and that her staff is working with the Asheville paper as well as journalists from USA Today.

Hardy told CNN she is arranging an offsite location where staff can work and stay if necessary; some of her other reporters in the Outer Banks, a series of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, intend to ride out the storm, despite the evacuation orders.

"We have been booking hotels and then having to find new ones when they close so our reporters can stay on the ground along the Coast," Hardy told CNN.

"Our goal is also to embed with the folks who are impacted the most," Hardy added. "As journalist we take that responsibility to heart."

Tim Buckland, a political reporter at The Star News of Wilmington, North Carolina, said that while his family fled to Charlotte two days ago, he and his colleagues are prepared to ride out the storm.

"We have several reporters who are going to hunker down in our building, at the Star News, which is a brick fortress that has no windows," Buckland said during an appearance on CNN Wednesday afternoon. "So we're going to ride it out through the storm and make sure we are constantly providing updates at StarNewsOnline.com. We know that we are the source of information for people, not only here, but for people who have left and are looking for news for how their home is affected."

The Washington Post has taken a similar measure with its own paywall, temporarily removing the limit on the number of Florence-related stories that readers can access on its website.

A spokesperson for the New York Times said Wednesday that no decision had been made on its own online pay meter, though there is apparently a lot of interest in the hurricane among the paper's subscribers.

"Already, days before the storm is due to hit the coast, readers are responding to our coverage in extraordinary numbers," Times national editor Marc Lacey said.

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