Local Houston media prevailed in coverage of Hurricane Harvey

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Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

As hurricane Harvey bombarded the Houston area, I sat on my couch in Austin and consumed every bit of media coverage on the storm I could find. At first, I wasn’t particularly worried about Harvey when my parents called on Thursday; it was just another hurricane. On Friday, every picture that popped up in my Twitter feed made my stomach sink a bit lower, but I was afraid of missing out on any new development, good or bad.

While scouring the internet, I found coverage of the storm to be a testament to a maxim we stress here at the Texan:
Consume local media.

In the face of devastation, I wanted to know everything that was going on — at every moment. Houston media proved an invaluable asset in the midst of Harvey’s onslaught, reporting relentlessly while keeping Houston’s culture in mind. But while the national media provided extensive coverage of the storm, many of the stories were out of touch. Two different NPR podcasts I listened to toyed with the idea of refusing federal aid to Houston and the Gulf cities because they’re prone to flooding, and discussion about Harvey spurring climate change action failed to recognize Houston’s progressive tendencies. I couldn’t finish listening to either.

Dominating the conversation, however, was the question,  “would you have evacuated if you lived in Houston?” This focus ignored the time, resources and economic means necessary to move 6.7 million people out of the metroplex. They ignored the chaotic mess of Hurricane Rita back in 2005, as well as the resulting deaths. They  ignored the question of where you’re going to put millions of people who have left their homes. The questions on everybody’s minds were being asked, but the wording many newscasters and podcasters were using was accusatory and degrading and failed to delve deeper into the logistics that would have been obvious to any Houstonian. Such failures stem from an unawareness of Houston’s culture.

Hurricanes are ingrained in Coastal Texans’ reality. Because they are so routine, Houstonians tend to adopt a mentality of staying home, hunkering down and preparing as best as they can. These storms are maddeningly unpredictable, and it’s not feasible to up and leave at the slightest threat — again,
Hurricane Rita tells us why.

But local media outlets understood this, and they relentlessly reported with this and other nuances of Houston’s culture in mind.

The KHOU 11 studio flooded, but the station’s journalists continued reporting; many Houston Chronicle journalists walked to the office in the midst of the storm; ABC13 reporters braved the weather and broadcasted from outside. It was Houston in its worst form, but it brought out the best.

Lindsay Ellis, education reporter for the Houston Chronicle since 2016 who extensively covered the storm, understood the paper’s role to keep Houstonians safe — a goal no different from their day-to-day operations.

“You keep an eye on the big picture and tell individual stories. You check your facts countless times and treat your sources with respect. And you show up ready to work and to help your coworkers do their jobs,” Ellis said in an email.

Hurricane Harvey was a historical moment in which we needed to hear local voices. We needed to hear the stories of Houstonians. We needed to humanize the city. We didn’t need to keep our distance; we needed to know what could be done to help.

To do that, we need close proximity. Just as you’d likely turn to a national paper with immediate access to Washington for comprehensive coverage of the White House, it’s important to check in with local media in the face of regional peril. The recent chronicling of Hurricane Harvey was yet another testament to just that.

It’s important to hear individualized stories and understand how turmoil affects the area it makes its home. It’s the only way to truly understand an issue and a great way to learn how others react to different obstacles. Many thanks to the journalists who put themselves in danger to ensure the city understood the issue facing us; coverage was, and continues to be, exceptional. If you want to understand how Harvey is truly affecting the Houston area, pay special attention to the city’s media.

Vernon is an anthropology and rhetoric and writing junior from The Woodlands. She is a senior columnist.