Meteorologists had been warning anyone who would listen about the potential for deadly storms in Mississippi and across the South, and on Monday afternoon, their predictions came true for our area.
“At the Student Media Center, students started planning for storm coverage on Sunday, and went into high gear via social media all afternoon Monday. This was the first big test for the brand-new DM staff, and they rose to the occasion,” said SMC Director Pat Thompson.
Broadcast journalism professor and interim NewsWatch 99 advisor Deb Wenger also had video journalists on standby. Shortly after 2 p.m., all the preparation proved its importance. An EF-2 tornado hit Tupelo, damaging as many as 500 businesses and 200 homes.
“Our students were amazing. They did what professional journalists do on a regular basis — cancel previous plans, gear up and go,” said Wenger.
Broadcast journalism senior Ian Cowart produced a story within hours of the touchdown.
Online, DM Photo Editor Cady Herring used photos from Thomas Graning and Ignacio Murillo to compile a photo gallery that quickly garnered hundreds of page views. Herring also quickly put together a map showing the wide path of the tornado destruction.
“New DM Editor in Chief Lacey Russell anchored the coverage throughout the night,” Thompson said. “Alli Moore got a quick baptism as new Design Editor, and Sierra Mannie contributed to the DM’s online presence. Students were tired as deadline approached Monday night, but spent time planning follow-up coverage for Tuesday.”
On Tuesday, Newswatch 99 produced extraordinary coverage of the storms in Louisville and Tupelo for the 5 p.m. newscast. Led by manager Miriam Cresswell, the show also included a graphic explainer of how tornados form, as well stories about the ways in which Mississippi residents were coming together to help the victims. Students Leah Gibson and Gabriel Austin were on the road by 6 a.m. Tuesday to cover the Louisville damage.
Russell, Graning, Herring and News Editor Logan Kirkand spent all day Tuesday in the field reporting, taking photographs and shooting video. Photojournalism professor Mikki Harris accompanied the students to help guide their multimedia reporting.
“I was so encouraged by the professional approach and demeanor the students used yesterday,” Harris said. “Logan was in people’s homes and yards not only conducting interviews, but helping. Logan said, ‘I didn’t really do that much. I helped carry a bin full of things to their car and tied a rug to the top of their car.’ Logan may not see that as doing much, but it is. He was there on assignment, interviewing, recording audio, capturing stills and video. Logan taking the time to move his focus away from a story, and focus on the people, shows tremendous skills as a journalist.”
In addition to all the work for student media outlets, former DM Editor Adam Ganucheau wrote the lead story for the New York Times’ U.S. page online. Graning’s work was used by the Associated Press throughout the day on Tuesday. Journalism student Jared Senseman’s photos were included in a slideshow produced for the Weather Channel on weather.com.