When your state is smacked head-on by a hurricane, when coastal communities are nearly wiped off the map, when the fourth-largest city in America is submerged in floodwater, a great newsroom doesn’t think twice. It springs into action.
That’s what happened at The Texas Tribune this weekend, when Hurricane Harvey — a storm our reporters had anxiously warned of for the last year — made landfall in Texas.
Before I go any further: Our journalists are largely based in Austin, which has been only mildly battered by the outer bands of Harvey. What we’re experiencing doesn’t compare to what journalists at places like the Houston Chronicle and Corpus Christi Caller-Times are experiencing. They’re providing an around-the-clock public service while picking through the remnants of their own homes, relocating their own families and, in some extreme cases, typing on their laptops upstairs while floodwaters rush into their ground floors.
But it’s been a surreal mix of the personal and professional for us all the same:
The Trib reporter pounding out a story on Sunday on the state’s official response to the hurricane hadn’t heard from his father — flooded out in Houston and taking refuge with elderly neighbors on his second floor — for a few too many hours.
Our partnerships director, juggling endless interview requests from cable news networks and the logistics of getting our stories republished far and wide, had just lost much of her coastal hometown and had moved several relatives — and their pets — into her Austin home.
My colleague who runs our audience-engagement efforts powered through with gritted teeth as her elderly and immovable father rode out the storm in a Houston-area hospital.
Our own editor, whose parents are traveling internationally, had no way of knowing if his childhood home was underwater.
And then there were the Trib reporters and photographers on the ground in Houston, Corpus Christi, Rockport — yanking on rubber boots and rain suits, tromping into floodwaters and debris, making their own families (and editors) endlessly nervous. With grapefruit-sized lumps in their throats, they interviewed people who’d lost absolutely everything, documented ungodly scenes, drove through harrowing obstacle courses in search of a cellphone signal — any cellphone signal — with which to file a story.
Virtually everyone in our newsroom has a personal connection to this disaster, whether it’s a family home, a close friend or relative, a childhood vacation spot. And virtually everyone in our newsroom went straight to work this weekend, regardless of beat or job description.
They’re a remarkable bunch. I’m honored to work alongside them, and I'm grateful they're serving you — our readers — and the state of Texas.