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It Took Miami New Times 6,000 Miles to Cover Hurricane Irma

It Took Miami New Times 6,000 Miles to Cover Hurricane IrmaEXPAND
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What does it take to publish a brilliant feature story, pictures, and cover design when there's no electricity or internet, and writers are pinned down by 100 mph winds?

The answer is ingenuity, luck, and communication over more than 6,000 miles.

Miami New Times doesn't have fancy generators or a bomb-shelter-protected press onsite, so covering nasty Hurricane Irma and her aftermath was more complicated for us than other media outlets. Yet we nailed every minute of the storm, from its first winds to the continuing recovery.

Writers and photographers fanned out across South Florida before the hurricane hit — from Kendall to Plantation — including Jessica Lipscomb, Brittany Shammas, Jerry Iannelli, Laine Doss, Douglas Markowitz, Zachary Fagenson, Ciara LaVelle, Michele Eve Sandberg, George Martinez, and Amadeus McCaskill. Web editor Jose Duran boarded a Royal Caribbean ship that took cruise line employees and some passengers to safety by traveling around the storm to the western edge of Cuba, about 500 miles from Miami.

By Saturday afternoon, power, internet, and phone service had gone out in the newspaper office in Wynwood, and cell-phone service and power were spotty throughout the region. By Sunday morning, power was all but gone around South Florida.

That's where luck came in. New Times managing editor Tim Elfrink had been called to Saint Louis before the storm for family reasons. After driving 1,200 miles, he was able to take feeds from reporters who somehow found phone lines or data service throughout Irma's attack, keeping a live blog on the storm going throughout the weekend.

After the storm cleared Sunday and Monday, the staff combed the county looking for stories of recovery. (Writing fellow Isabella Vi Gomes also sent dispatches from the New York area, 1,300 miles north.)

Elfrink eventually compiled all of the reports into a narrative feature about Irma and sent the piece back to Miami for editing. (I worked from the living room of a neighbor, Mike Rheault, who was one of few not to lose power.)

With much of the staff sidelined, backups took over from there. Copyeditor Mary Louise English read the story in Daytona Beach and then forwarded it to designer Darrick Rainey in Los Angeles, 2,700 miles away. McCaskill and Sandberg also sent photos to Miami art director Kristin Bjornsen, who edited the work before sending it to L.A.

Rainey compiled everything — a day after the newspaper's normal weekly print deadline — and sent it to Stuart Web, 100 miles north of Miami, where it was printed, assembled, and trucked to Miami before being delivered to hundreds of stands and businesses.

So not only did our storm coverage garner about a half-million page views before Irma even hit, but the paper was also delivered on time to those who needed the information and still didn't have power. And that is what a newspaper is supposed to do.

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