What it’s really like (this reporting thing)

Hello, incoming 4450/7450 student/reporter person.

We are about to meet face to face. I bet you have a lot of questions. I also bet you’ve heard some stuff about reporting: that it’s hard, the hours are long and those Missourian editors just don’t understand that you’re also a student.

We do understand. We also know that we have an obligation to give you the best training we can for a journalism world that has changed rapidly because of technology (and for so many other reasons) and will continue to change in ways we haven’t even begun to imagine.

What it’s like out there in the real world of reporting right now is a little easier to describe. And for that, I would like to thank Brian Stetler, who wrote this remarkable blog post about covering the tornado in Joplin — a story he hadn’t planned to cover. But then, there he was at O’Hare, and that flight was just leaving and he’s a weather geek, so…

This is your reading for class on Tuesday. Here’s how this works: You read, then you comment on this post. It’s more fun that way.

Here’s a question: What were some of the technical challenges Stetler faced?

Another question: What did he say his first instinct should be for covering a disaster?

See you on Sunday.

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57 Responses to What it’s really like (this reporting thing)

  1. Alison Matas says:

    Some of the technological challenges Stelter faced were were a lack of cell phone service, a dying cell phone, lack of e-mail capabilities (wifi) and lack of radio service. Consequently, he primarily relied on texting and tweeting to get his messages across. He eventually had to park himself in a McDonald’s just to be able to send stories.

    Stelter said his first instinct in covering a disaster should be to do no harm.

  2. C. David Navarro says:

    Hi, my name is Carlos David Navarro, and I registered for J7450, in the sports beat. I just read Brian Stelter’s blog post about his experience covering the aftermath of the tornado in Joplin last May. In my opinion, the blog post illustrates what good reporting should be. Not only does it describe events in a detailed way, but it also makes it easier for the reader to feel that he or she is actually witnessing the events Mr. Stelter describes. What’s amazing is that he was able to do some great reporting even though he faced some important technical challenges. Power fluctuations often made it difficult for Mr. Stelter to use technology to report what he was seeing. Without reliable access to the Internet, and even telephones, he managed to keep up with the events and, more importantly, keep the NYTimes and its readers up-to-date as to what was happening in Joppling. In an era when technology has reshaped how news is conveyed and transmitted (even to a point when we tend to rely entirely on such resources), Mr. Stelter’s efforts can only be described as outstanding. His actions illustrate how good reportes should always think ahead of the situations they are facing and have a “plan B” for everything.

    Another element that I consider important and interesting in Mr Stelter’s experience is to understand how he was able to report such shocking events without “crossing the line”. I mean, from what he describes in his post, the Joplin community was aware of his profession, and even so, they let him do his job. In fact, most people actually seemed happy and thankful to have him around, and decided to help him. And this is where Professor Reed’s second question comes up. I think the Joplin community allowed Mr. Stelter to be around and report the events becase he always showed a respectful attitude toward the terrible consequences of the disaster he was witnessing. Although he understood that his job was to tell stories about what he was seeing and hearing, he also understood that he was dealing with people who had lost their homes and/or their loved ones. Mr. Stelter never forgot that these were actual people he was interacting with. He never put his own duties as a reporter above his duties as a citizen. I think that s a very difficult distinction to make, and one that true journalists should learn to establish.

    Well, I hope the reflections about Mr. Stelter’s blog post continue. I’m looking forward to meeting my classmates and starting a series of productive discussions in class. All the best.

  3. Jessika Street says:

    1. Some of the technical challenges he faced was the fact that cell phone reception was very limited. In addition, access to the internet was difficult to find. He couldn’t call New York and update everyone. The information he was able to provide was very choppy because of the limited communication.
    2. He said his first instinct should be “first, do no harm.”

  4. nilesmedia says:

    His first instinct should be for covering a disaster seems like the most sound and appropriate one: “first, do no harm.” A well-trained reporter will know how to stay out of the way in emergency situations like this, while still getting the story.

    What were some of his technical challenges?! There were many:
    spotty cell phone service
    limited wireless service
    limited power

    But before I go on: There are the technical challenges from covering a disaster (or a rural area) as listed above. Then there are challenges of poor planning, inevitable mishaps, and the fact that it was a last-minute decision to go to Joplin.

    no pen
    bad shoes
    no map
    his plan with NY at first seemed to rely on technical infrastructure that I’m surprised they didn’t know would be knocked out
    Instagram took a long time to load pics. I wonder if there is a way you can upload web versions instead of full size — without having to save a smaller version, then upload that.

    In addition to the challenges, there’s a lot that worked, technically or otherwise:

    kindness of strangers (McDonalds crew hosting him)
    that he rented a truck/SUV instead of an economy car — both in terms of navigating the terrain of a disaster area and also as a place to sleep.
    lots of granola bars on-hand
    He took lots of pictures as he went, knowing he would need them in order to remember later what he had seen.
    Twitter and texting worked as platforms for getting short messages out in a hectic environment where wireless/cell service could not be sustained long enough for a long dispatch, phone call, or even email.
    Twitter also worked as a means of communicating in short bursts directly with the public while simultaneously provided editors back in NY content to patch together into a longer, coherent story for publication.
    The Times published a link directly to his Twitter feed.
    The editors back in NY worked!
    He had all his chargers with him.
    He just happened to have installed a new app the previous week that allowed him to upload iPhone video via the NYT FTP site — kudos on both counts of having the app and the NYT having a reliable FTP mechanism.
    He had a change of clothes with him (socks, t-shirt)
    He ventured out beyond the hospital to see the whole picture — didn’t let himself be guided by the judgment of other reporters on the scene.
    He seems to have partnered effectively with other reporters on the scene / local media like the radio station. I’m curious about the extent to which this type of collaborative reporting was or could have been exercised.

  5. chanteloneal11 says:

    Stetler’s first instinct in covering a natural disaster was to do no harm. He was a reporter, but more importantly he showed compassion while he was in that role. He built relationships with his sources, and showed that he was there to tell their stories not to exploit them.

    Stetler faced a number of technical challenges while reporting on the disaster in Joplin. He had problems with his cell phone battery dying, spotty service, and a lack of Wifi.
    Another way he experienced technical difficulty was in his attempt to tell the story, to convey what he was seeing. He relied on a variety of communication channels to get his information out to the public, from texts to tweets to Instagram photos. However, most of the time not all of these options were available to him. He notes that part of him thought it was more of a TV story than a print story, so he had to work to include those visual elements in the form of photos with his iPhone or detailed descriptions in his writing.

  6. Emily Garnett says:

    Stetler faced the problem of communicating to a high-speed online world, in a place where that world wasn’t well established. Yet his first “technical” problem was an old school one–he had neglected to bring any pens. On his way to Joplin, he watched as his cell phone service steadily deteriorated and at first he could only send out twitters and texts to the NY Times from his iphone, as pictures and large amounts of copy took too long to load with his “spotty” cell phone service. This remained a problem the entire time, although he found a Wifi refuge in two local McDonalds where he was able to send real stories, pictures, and make phone calls. The rest of his technical problems were as low-tech as the pen issue–he was ill-equipped for the weather. His shoes weren’t holding up, rain soaked his clothes, and he had to rely largely on a small stash of granola bars for nourishment.

    His first instinct when confronted with covering this disaster was “First, do no harm.” He was there to get a story and keep the world updated, but he was acutely aware of the life-and-death situations that he might encounter, and knew that the rescue efforts were the priority.

  7. MaddieB says:

    Some of the technical challenges Stetler faced centered around his lack of preparation. As he wrote in his blog, he quickly changed his travel plans, which meant him arriving in Joplin without maps, instructions, proper clothing and sadly, no pen. He also had to navigate through a difficult maze of poor cell and internet coverage. Stetler was both flexible and persistent in overcoming many of the challenges he faced, patiently uploading photos and twitter updates which he realized as extremely valuable and unique reports.

    He said his first instinct for covering a disaster should be “first, do no harm.” Which in his case I think applies to simply not impeding the search and rescue/ recovery efforts as he attempts to find and tell the stories of the Joplin tornado victims.
    -Maddie Blasberg

  8. Hi! Roxanne Foster here. I’m a bit late in weighing in, but I found this Stelter’s post really interesting.

    Some of the technical difficulties he had were:
    *charging his phone so that he could maintain contact with NY and upload content,
    *finding suitable cell service in the area, so he had to resort to sending immediate updates after hitting the ground via text instead of phone calls or email
    *being unable to upload content (photos, send email updates, etc.) electronically. He was using Instagram and Twitter apps, but they weren’t set to auto-upload
    *this may not count, but having to describe what he was seeing through words and pictures while feeling that video would’ve been more effective (but was unavailable)

    This was a great reminder that we need to be ready at all times to capture what’s happening and push the news through to the public. He didn’t even have a pen. Since he did a turnaround trip, he didn’t have the right clothing or shoes to be where he was (which you talked about in orientation today) . In spite of it all, he found alternatives, made sacrifices and did what he had to do to get the job done.

    Stelter said his first instinct should be to do no harm. I found that interesting because that can be both physically (in regards to the power lines he was crossing, knowing what areas are safe to go into, not impeding search and rescue efforts, etc.), and emotionally (as in we should be sensitive to those who are victims of the natural disaster we’re covering, especially in regards to the questions we ask and how much we push to get info in order to meet our deadlines).

  9. Julia Boudreau says:

    1. Major technological challenges Stelter encountered were a lack of cellphone and internet access. As stated in the article, and evident from the many reoccurring pictures and video shown continuously on television stations, the lack of internet connection seemed to be a problem for many other reporters as well. Due to the decrease in internet access and cell service it was difficult for Stelter to send emails, make phone calls, and upload photos to Instagram.
    2. Stelter stated that his first instinct during a natural disaster should be to, “do no harm.” I found this statement a good rule to live by during a natural disaster. After watching the devastating images of grief and loss following the tornadoes, the last thing I would want to do as a person or a reporter is cause more pain for the citizens of Joplin. Having a goal of doing no harm would allow a reporter to be helpful to the people of the city while still getting their story told.

  10. Crystal Herber says:

    After reading Brian Stetler’s blog about his days in Joplin it really brought to light the immense difficulties that a reporter may face when covering a breaking news event, a natural disaster in particular. Stetler faced several technical issues: he had spotty cell phone service and wifi connection only when he went to a McDonald’s. In addition, he was ill-prepared to cover a natural disaster (wrong shoes, no pen, dying cell phone) as he was on his way to Chicago to cover the last episode of Oprah. These technical issues, however, did not keep him from doing his job; he just had to think of different ways of getting his job done, which is something every journalist has to get used to doing.
    Stetler said that his first instinct when covering a natural disaster is to “do no harm.” Good advice across all spectrums of journalism, but especially when covering something as delicate as a natural disaster.

  11. keliza13 says:

    1) He had to deal with a lack of pen, spotty phone service, wet clothes (health hazard), the wrong shoes for the job, no Internet really as a map, and limited battery life. I think this article is interesting because we’ve all been spoiled by the ability to get cell service and Internet access. My parents often scoff that I should be learning the job with the bare minimum (no smart phone, and just in February did I get texting service on my phone). Reading this, I see just how–for lack of a better word–cool that technology is in getting the word out. I’m forwarding this post to them so they can see it. IPhone for Christmas, anyone??

    2) His first instinct was “do no harm,” which I find to be a very interesting reaction. If I had been in that situation, I probably would have thought “Get the story right, cover all angles, and get the hell out.” Not the altruistic view we should have, but truthful enough for a fresh journalist.

    At the White House Correspondence Dinner, Seth Meyers made a joke about Brian Williams landing in London, turning around, and going back to the midwest to cover the storms instead of the royal wedding. Meyers made a joke about it, but I think it’s very interesting that Stetler did something very similar.

    Kate Everson
    Neighborhoods Beat
    keef48@mail.missouri.edu

    • reedkath says:

      I had not heard that joke about Brian Williams. I wish it were true.

      • keliza13 says:

        It was true, actually. It was a part of the bit SM was doing on how nightly broadcasters are full of themselves. According to the transcript of that evening, Meyers said:

        “My friend and colleague from NBC Brian Williams is here tonight. Brian said he was coming because tonight has the element he most respects in an evening – cameras. I’m not saying Brian loves being on TV, but when he went to Egypt it was because he heard it was their pilot season. All joking aside, I have nothing but respect for my good friend Brian; I don’t know if everyone heard about this, but Brian landed in London to cover the Royal Wedding, only to turn around and return to America to cover the tornadoes in Alabama. It was incredibly brave and courageous. And that is a direct quote from Brian Williams.”

  12. Alexandria Baca says:

    Technical challenges Stetler faced included a low cell phone battery, lack of cell phone service, including email and calling services, no pens and inappropriate shoes.

    Stetler said his first instict for covering a disaster should be “do no harm.”

  13. Nicholas Sullivan says:

    1. Stetler faced many challenges. Some of which can be attributed to going to Joplin almost on a whim. Others can be attributed to the natural disaster itself. Some in the first category include not having a map, instructions, boots or even a pen. Things in the second category included decreased, to a point of almost nonexistence, cell phone service, barely being able to upload photos on Instagram, not being able to send emails and also having trouble sending texts and Tweets.

    2. Stetler said his first instinct should be “first, do no harm.”

  14. Brendan Meyer says:

    It was clearly evident that Stelter faced many technological challenges, but what was even more fascinating were all of his technological advantages. It is absolutely incredible the ways that technology has progressed over time. Imagine if this catastrophe occurred just 10 years ago, when texting, iPhones, Twitter and Facebook were nonexistent? He would simply not have been able to report. The fact that he was able to communicate his experience even though there was no cell service or internet connection really shows the path that journalism is taking.

    I also personally feel that the story within the story is what is most important. Within hours of the devastation left by the tornado, CNN, CNBC, Fox and other news stations were already in Joplin giving everyone visuals and the slightest bits of information that they had, along with being equipped with camera crews and reporters. I for one was glued to the TV, as I agree with Stelter that an event such as this is “a television story more than a print story.” For Stelter, he decided on shear impulse to travel to Joplin. He wanted to get the story. That’s what journalism is. I’m not surprised that he did not see many journalists there, as it would be an extremely difficult and gutsy task.

    When reading his blog, I thought he did a terrific job at maintaining neutrality, and simply reported what he saw or what he was told.

  15. Richard Fernandez says:

    What were some of the technical challenges Stetler faced?

    Stetler had to deal with the poor cell phone service. He could not make calls or send emails. Texting and tweeting were the only ways he could immediately relay information.

    Another question: What did he say his first instinct should be for covering a disaster?
    He said his first instinct should be, “First, do no harm.”

  16. Cassidy Richardson says:

    Stelter faced numerous technical problems that could have hindered his reporting. Yet he worked around the challenges and wrote a compelling piece. He lost cell phone service multiple times, was unable, until he discovered a McDonald’s with wifi, to send more than “chunks” of stories and information at a time and he was not able to contact editors and/or photographers on a whim. Stelter had to plan ahead and change his plans to circumvent technical and physical challenges. His ability to use the tools he had, even if they were the bare minimum and bad connections, shows how reporters must be flexible in the new age of convergence journalism.
    Stelter said that is first instinct should be to do no harm.

  17. Julianne Hilmes says:

    The technological challenges Stelter found included lack of cell phone service, little to no wifi and spotty radio connections. It’s amazing that despite those challenges he was still able to keep people updated via tweets. It’s also a testament to the growing power social media plays in journalism.

    Stelter’s first instinct upon arrival was “do no harm.”

    His use of stream of consciousness, the incorporation of his tweets and “what I learned” sections made for a very engaging read.

  18. karenemiller says:

    Stetler’s technical challenges were many. There was everything from the lack of pens to the lack of cell service, power, and wi-fi. I learned from his struggles that reporting from a disaster zone means you are also a part of the disaster zone and you should always be prepared. With pens.

    His first instinct, which I thought was profound, was to “do no harm”. It’s important to report damage without damaging people.

  19. Jared says:

    Stetler said his first instinct should be to do no harm when covering a disaster. I think it’s a logical instinct, but a lot easier said than done when covering disasters. Stetler arrived in Joplin to a scene of destruction caused by the tornado, but at the same time there were still items volunteers were recovering from the ruin, like the 80-year-old rocking chair. My initial reaction to his first instinct was “duh” but after thinking about it a little more, I’ve come to the conclusion that I believe any reporter’s first instinct would naturally be to not do any further harm to a disaster area, but it is extremely important to be extra careful when covering disasters, to avoid causing any additional harm to the disaster area.

    Stetler’s greatest technical challenge in covering the Joplin disaster was the lack of internet and cell phone service. Although he had a laptop and an iPhone, even a notepad (but according to him, no pens) to record his experience, he couldn’t send the story of his experience to his editors and struggled, especially at the beginning, to even upload pictures and tweets for Twitter to share with people who weren’t physically in Joplin and therefore unable to witness the disaster firsthand.

  20. Carlota Cortés says:

    Hi, my name Carlota Cortés.
    Brian Stelter had to deal with different technological challenges. First of all there was the lack of map and pen. Another challenges he had to face was the connection to the cell service and the difficulties to upload photos to Instagram and tweets to Twitter. Finally his clothes were not appropriate for the weather. All these technical challenges did not block him on doing his job.
    Then his first instinct for covering the disaster is, as he clearly says in the text, “first, do no harm”.

  21. Alicia Stice says:

    1. Stelter’s cell phone service went out as he approached Joplin, making it harder to navigate and communicate. Uploading pictures from the hospital also took extra time because the cell phone service was so poor.
    2. He said his first instinct should be to “do no harm.”

  22. Emilie Stigliani says:

    I found Brian Stelter’s stream of consciousness narrative riveting. It is apparent from his story that quick thinking and decided action played an important role in his coverage of Joplin. He was in the right place at the right time, but he also made a series of decisions that allowed him to be there as the Joplin story unfolded.
    Stelter’s narrative made me think about text messaging as a storytelling medium. I hadn’t thought about that before. I clicked on the link and read to read his texts and I found the frequency of his messages and his ability to see and communicate details strung together a compelling story. Through a stream of texts, Stelter brought the reader along with him on his journey and exploration of Joplin. It proved an effective structure that could then be built upon and incorporated into other stories.
    I also appreciated Stelter’s comment about “do no harm” when covering disasters. Disasters are not played out for the benefit of reporters. It is the reporter’s duty to act as a storyteller and to let people outside and inside the disaster area know what is going on, what needs to be done, what is going well, and what isn’t. As a compassionate human being and an ethical reporter, it is important to be attentive to the fact that people have just had their lives disrupted and in some cases have lost things and people very dear to them. A reporter’s job is to not to sensationalize a disaster. Their job is to be a bridge of communication between the people effected and the wider national and global community.

  23. Rikki Byrd says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed Stetler’s story. As an amateur journalist, my fear has been the “what-if” factor. “What if I mess up? What if my editor doesn’t like what my idea? What if readers don’t like my story?”
    Stetler, being a obviously seasoned journalist, has provided me with a little hope. What I admired most about him was that he didn’t hesitate to jump into a developing situation. Sure, he wasn’t fully equipped–no pens, no reception, lack of proper clothes, no place to stay, and a lieu of other disadvantages that have been mentioned in previous responses. But, he went for it.
    His first instinct to do no harm was excellent. We’re humans, so we have fears. But he checked off-the-clock Stetler at the door (or for this matter, the airport), and went into the situation as a professional. By any means necessary, and on several electronic platforms, he persisted and produced what seems to be an excellent piece of journalism.
    I can honestly say that I’ll be using Stetler’s story as inspiration for the duration of this semester. There are some great stories out there waiting for someone to be courageous enough to take a grab at them; and I’d much rather write about those stories, than read about them.

    Rikki Byrd
    Neighborhoods Beat

  24. Anna Carlson says:

    When Brian was in Joplin he faced many challenges. First, he didn’t have time to really plan before landing in Joplin. He had to work with the equipment he had with him in Chicago: cell phone, laptop and notebook (minus the pen). While that may seem like plenty considering his quick decision to go to Joplin, he had to deal with the lack of cell service and Internet connection. Getting photos online was also very important. However, uploading photos took hours. Not having the ability to get information to New York quickly really hindered what he was able to contribute to the story, but when he did have cell service and Wifi, his information was vital because he was there.
    Brian also said his first instinct should be “do no harm.”

  25. Alex Zurawik says:

    Stelter faced many technological challenges, such as not being able to find cell service for phone calls or tweets where the disaster hit. What was interesting is how that actually helped his story. He was able to meet more people, like the man’s son whose car flipped over. There was a story update right there. Even though he was not able to send a picture from the scene, he was able to keep updates with the newsroom through tweets and texts and send a sense of emotion and how the community felt through that. This reminds me of the commercials (I think it is Snickers) where they have breaking news and it comes from a tweet. It’s a fast way to keep up with the news competition. Once finding a place of service, he was able to file more of story instead of just chunks. There seems to be battle between filing news stories with background, analysis and trends and still keeping up with the competition to get news out first.

    Stelter said that his first instinct was to “do no harm.”

  26. hokietiger says:

    Stetler faced issues of wireless connectivity, both on his phone and on his computer. I thought the idea about having cellphone’s for a bunch of different providers was great, albeit probably not feasible. I thought it was great that McDonald’s helped him with his wireless connectivity so he could actually file these stories.
    His first instinct was to do no harm, and I agree in a lot of ways. If he puts himself too much in the rescue efforts, he sacrifices his objectivity. However, by not helping, he may be doing more harm by creating a distraction for those who are just trying to help with the recovery efforts. It’s very interesting the line he had to toe in trying to report on the coverage while helping when needed.

  27. Some technical difficulties that Stetler faced were lack of cell phone service, lack of reliable internet or e-mail service, inappropriate attire, and no pen. Though faced with many challenges, Stetler kept a cool head amid such chaos and continued reporting to the best of his ability. To enter such a situation and remain so focused is truly impressive. I feel he did an excellent job of reporting while staying true to his first instinct, “do no harm.”

  28. Abbey Sussell says:

    Brian Stelter faced multiple challenges. After his unanticipated departure, Stelter lacked a pen, suitable boots and clothes. Upon arrival to Joplin, he struggled with spotty internet and cell service. Stelter said it often took him a couple minutes to upload an Instagram picture. In a world of instantly accessible information, minutes seem like hours. Luckily Stelter was able to find internet service at a McDonald’s and correspond back to New York via Twitter and text.

    Stelter said his first instinct when covering a disaster should be “to do no harm.”

    I found Brian’s post very interesting because of his comments surrounding technology. A disaster is a reality check: it reminds us that the people hurt from disaster are most important. However it is also a reminder that technology has become vital in modern society. Brain reminded me of all the things we disregard because of improved technology. Because of cell phones, we might forget to carry a map, use the radio or place a call from a landline. In time of disaster, a reporter must go back to the basics.

  29. Hi, Jillian Jackson here. I’m a bit late on the commenting, but thought I should go ahead and answer the questions.

    Some of the technical challenges Stetler faced included bad cell service and limited access to the Internet (the McDonald’s). He had some trouble uploading photos, sending emails, making phone calls and getting all of his Tweets through. not only did he have troubles with technology, he had some trouble in other areas, too. He didn’t have a pen, his clothes were not suitable for the cold and rainy weather and his shoes were not made for walking around a disaster area.

    Stetler said his first instinct should be “first, do no harm.”

  30. Brian Stetler’s blog was a great read for me, as it shows how you can still elicit emotion and interest with only copy. (Not to say photos aren’t important!) As Stetler mentions, “‘This is a television story more than a print story'” because he thought the visual side of the story would appeal more to the heart, whereas print would appeal more to the brain. Yet, using only copy, his personal blog manages to tell the overall tragedy of Joplin and also the individual anecdotes of those living through it. Stetler shows that the first person narrative, behind-the-scenes kind of story can be just as good of a story as a photo gallery or a news report.
    That being said, I’ll get to the actual assignment. His technological challenges were the lack of a pen, (small, but very important), spotty cell phone service, a dying battery in the cell phone, lack of a reliable internet connection, not having a map or even proper shoes. His first instinct was to “do no harm” as the citizens of Joplin were already suffering. Having an insensitive journalist nosing around the site of a recent tragedy would obviously cause even more harm. So, the fact that Stetler helped the volunteers and actually cared about what happened to the Johnson family showed that being a journalist means more than just being a good writer.

  31. Elizabeth Gallaway says:

    I found Stetler’s blog post very interesting and insightful regarding reporting breaking news. Stetler was faced with many technical challenges when he reached Joplin. He was not prepared equipment-wise (he said he had a notebook but no pen) and had to deal with cell service and internet not being easily accessible. He had to do most of his reporting via text message at first. Despite these large setbacks, Stetler managed to work through them and find interesting stories from volunteers and residents of Joplin.

    Stetler said that his first instinct for covering disaster was to do no harm. Even though his duty as a journalist is to report the news, one has to do it in a way that is unobtrusive and still sensitive to those in the tragedy. He did not want to get in the way of the volunteer and rescuers work. I think by getting to know those he interviewed before asking questions and also helping the volunteers out between reporting, he was able to gain their trust and get them to really open up when he did interview them. This is a good thing to do not only in a tragic situation such as this, but it also enabled him to tell the story with emotion. It makes the story more compelling to the reader.

  32. cmsole says:

    Stetler faced adverse technical challenges while in Joplin, a number of these challenges associated with the fact that his trip to Joplin was impromptu. This included, but was not limited to, a lack of secure housing and flight tickets, lack of materials such as pens, a map and a phone charger, lack of proper clothing/ gear for the weather conditions. The biggest technical challenges Stetler encountered seemed to be associated with the spotty Internet and cell phone service in Joplin. This severely impaired his ability to upload his Tweets, clips and photographs to the Internet. It also impacted his ability to get ahold of others via telephone, including sources and the New York Times. It also meant he could not be alerted of any weather changes or rescue effort updates via his cell phone.

    Stetler mentioned that Joplin was his first time coming upon a natural disaster as a reporter and that his first instinct for covering such a disaster “should be ‘first, do no harm.'”

  33. 1) Facing a disastrous situation and because of poor, Stetler encountered many technical issues. He arrived in Joplin without any reporter tools. First, he realized that he had a notebook but no pen (“carry extra pen.”) Secondly, his cell phone battery was dying and the cell service was degrading (“an all-consuming problem.”) Next time, he “would buy those backpacks that have six or eight wireless cards in them, all connected to different cell tower operators.” Considering those first technical problems he was unable to contact New York easily and cover the disaster correctly. So, his only way to communicate about the story was to post comments on Twitter. He hoped the tweets could have been relayed from New York because posts did not make an article. Finally, he realized that his article was mainly based on his tweets. New way of reporting ? Another technical issue could be the comfort of the reporter : Stetler needed good boots and warm clothes to avoid being wet.
    2) “Do not warm”. He assumed that a reporter has to create a distance between the disaster and himself so as to do a good job.

  34. I’m not sure I need to relist all the technical difficulties Stelter experienced, but I loved the way he used his time, constantly willing to change his plans based on what was going on and what opportunities presented himself. He was sensitive to whether people felt comfortable with him around or not, and he obviously did a good job interacting with people as the McDonalds let him stay late, the guy who’s house was destroyed offered him an overnight place, and the man with his dad in the hospital promised to help him get some quotes later. I also liked how he reflected on and documented what he learned… both in terms of ideas he has for technology and for personal readiness improvement (work shoes are not adequate at a disaster site).

  35. Ray Howze says:

    Stelter faced tremendous technical challenges having to report from rural areas of Missouri. What is most amazing however, is what he was able to accomplish despite these technical challenges. Having to deal with poor cell service and a lack of wireless internet connections, Stelter was still able to provide sufficient amounts of information from Joplin. Stelter was able report on the spot (after he refreshed his phone a few times) instead of having to take photos and interviews etc., only to have to wait to share the information with the world.

    Another technical challenge Stelter faced was a rather rudimentary challenge. A lack of pens. This can be chalked up to today’s reliance on technology and digital forms of media. Stelter instead needed more of a tool he could use to better record information in an area not so suitable for internet and cell phone service at the time. Despite Stelter’s lack of pens, he was able to capture images words could not even come close to describing.

    Stelter’s first instinct was one of the most important ones. “First, do no harm.” The last thing Stelter wanted to do was create a negative impression of himself and his profession. In a disaster situation like this, I think you need to focus on being a person just as much as a journalist. Look out not to get in the way of important rescue operations. Instead find a middle ground to still be able to report without being a nuisance.

  36. Hannah Spaar says:

    Stetler faced a lot of technical problems with cell phone service, seeing as it reduced communication out of Joplin. The lack of connection with internet also limited the amount of content he was able to upload for people to use. I thought it was interesting that he said text messages were the only way to get most communicating done, but it makes sense with the small amount of time under service it takes for a text message. While it wasn’t an obstacle for him to overcome directly, the fact that the power outages were affecting the radio signal meant that he would have lost his main connection to knowing what was going on in the area had they gone out.

    Stetler said that his first instinct was to not cause any harm.

  37. Simina Mistreanu says:

    Some of the technological problems Stelter encountered were lack of cell service and unsteady Internet connection. But he also came upon some good surprises, like the Wifi at McDonald’s (and the employees’ readiness to let him use the place extensively) and the local radio stations, which became his “eyes and ears all day”.

    His first instinct about covering a disaster was to do no harm. He accomplished more than that by helping people around him. I think he gave the right answer to the old “journalistic” question: if you were at the scene of a car crash what would you do first, file the news story or call for an ambulance?

  38. Bari says:

    Some of the technological issues that he faced included lack of phone reception and internet in the main areas of Joplin, where he was reporting. Luckily enough, technology has advanced to the point where people are able to virtually load content from their smartphones and tablets, so Stetler was able to report in real-time the events unfolding in the aftermath of the storm. It’s phenomenal to think that though, yes, better cell phone reception and wifi would have been helpful, Stetler was still able to tell an important story to the masses, even in 140-character tweets.
    Stetler’s first rule was to do no harm while covering a disaster.

  39. Amber M. says:

    Brian Stetler faced several challenges while covering the tornado’s aftermath in Joplin, MO. This was his first time covering a disaster. When he arrived in Joplin, he did not have any directions, familiarity with the area, or proper clothing. He did have a notebook, but not a pen. So, he took notes on his phone, through text, Twitter, and photos. This ended up helping him, though, because it made it easier for him to be around the volunteers without the presence of a notebook. However, it was difficult to work with a cell phone, because there was little reception in the area, causing delays in Twitter updates and picture uploads. When he was able to receive a signal, he relied on text messages to relay information back to New York. In fact, a good portion of the reporting was displayed through Twitter and text before it was finally collected into published stories. Yet another challenge that Stetler faced was finding sources. He couldn’t use nurses at the hospital as sources, but eventually he found a 22-year-old man and his father, who were willing to share their story. In addition to technical and reporting challenges, Stetler also had to deal with health risks. Due to wet clothes and chilly weather, Stetler could have gotten hypothermia. Lastly, after spending time in Joplin and reporting on the disaster, he had to drive 176 miles back to Kansas City and then fly back to Chicago within a short window of time.

    After Stetler acknowledges that this was his first time reporting on a natural disaster, he said that his first instinct should be “first, do no harm.”

  40. Aaron Cooper says:

    Stetler’s first instincts for covering a disaster are not to hesitate–to go for it, to cover it–and, later, to be able to Tweet his observations as he reports them.

    Stetler continually talks about getting, or trying to get, permission. He talks about getting permission to take the flight to Kansas City; not getting permission to talk with nurses, getting unwonted and surprising permission to stay at the house of a college student; struggling to get permission from the NYT to post his Twitter feed live; looking for a P.R. person to permit him to report at the hospital tent; getting permission to stay at a McDonald’s after it closed.

    The attempts at getting permission constitute the little dramas of his story. He faces certain obstacles; will he overcome them? We experience these first person mini-conflicts along with Stetler the reporter–while Stetler the stranded human being, short on basic needs–food, sleep, and shelter–brings us as he negotiates a shocking, apocalyptic terrain. The dramas propel and add interest to his story far more than just a catalogue of reportorial observations would.

    Even as Stetler confronts these obstacles and some technical challenges, he also escapes the turmoil by returning to his “home”–McDonalds–where everything is safe and familiar, where he finds food, shelter, human contact and a good wi-fi signal.

    Some of his technical challenges were these: working without a pen, getting a cell phone signal, charging his phone (which he did through his laptop on the plane to Joplin), enduring the extra time his Twitter & Instagram apps took because of the sparse cell phone reception, conveying visual news using iPhone video & (iPhone?) photos rather than a TV camera, communicating via text message.

  41. Being a reporter means you have to be really volatile. Obviously he faced a lot of technological problems in that he had no cell service and limited internet connectivity that severely diminished his ability to communicate stories and images to the Times. What I got most out of his experience of not having a good connection to New York, not having the right shoes or even a pen, and going to cover the event despite that he is usually a TV/Web reporter is that as a journalist you have to be ready for anything. News doesn’t wait for you to prepare and it doesn’t care what your job title is. You have to be ready for anything at anytime. This is probably one of the toughest things about journalism. In most other jobs the role is defined and certain. Ours, however, changes with the story.

  42. Allyus Fritz says:

    Brian Stetler took advantage of his proximity to Joplin, MO, and jumped on an opportunity to cover the disaster. The biggest technological problem that he encountered was the lack of cell phone service. This was obviously a problem for everyone in the area, including rescue workers. For a large period of time he was not able to send e-mails or make calls to his colleagues about what he was experiencing. He took notes on his phone and after finding a McDonalds with power and WiFi, he was able to publish much of his work. Twitter ended up being very valuable in his Journalistic pursuit. Stetler commented that it could be helpful to have someone back at the office who could rewrite the field reporters tweets and work them in to a live news story. I thought that could be an extremely useful tool in creating a live story. Through Twitter he was able to post pictures as well. Another obstacle he faced was that he didn’t have a pen. Even though he was able to use his phone and laptop to conquer this problem, it could still have been solved had he seemingly not been to dependent on technology.

    His first instinct when covering the disaster was not to do any harm to the people involved. He wanted to get a story and cover it well, but not at anyone’s expense.

  43. Ali Jones says:

    Some of the technological problems that Stetler experienced were the lack of phone and internet service. This made his job more difficult, but luckily he came across WiFi at McDonalds. He also was able to report what he saw through his twitter, which made the lack of phone signal easier to deal with.

    Stetler’s first rule was to do no harm. SInce he had never reported on a natural disaster, his first instinct was to do no harm.

  44. Hannah Burkett says:

    Stetler definitely faced some challenges within Joplin, but I also think that the way he handled the situation was extremely effective, perhaps more so than what the Times originally wanted. While having internet access would have been ideal from the start so Stetler could send e-mails, the fact that he used Twitter and Instagram “fit” the situation better. The short bursts of information and the photos really got the message across that Joplin had been hit hard.

    The health hazards that he faced were also very dangerous: hypothermia is deadly and wet clothing can lead to skin rashes, etc.

    Stetler’s first and foremost instinct was to “do no harm.”

  45. Stetler said that his first reaction to covering a national disaster should be “first, do no harm.” I think he meant that, in light of the tragedy, he must be sensitive and careful. He also talked about how crippling it was to have technical issues; he couldn’t find reliable internet or cell phone service to send emails, copy, or make calls. His only way to communicate the story was through short Twitter posts, which actually ended up telling a fascinating story about experiencing the aftermath of the disaster in real time. This says a lot about journalists’ reliance on technology and also about how it can be used in unconventional ways that can tell a story in a completely differently than traditional news stories.

  46. One of the biggest technical challenges Stelter faced was poor cell phone service, which affected his ability to communicate with the New York newsroom. It took a long time to upload photos, his calls to New York always dropped quickly and e-mails didn’t leave his outbox. Instead, he relied mainly on text messaging and Twitter to send his copy out. When he was finally able to find Wifi and power, he suggested that The Times incorporate his Twitter feed into their coverage of the disaster, as it was the site of his latest reporting.

    Stelter said that his first instinct for covering a disaster should be “first, do no harm.”

  47. Christina Trester says:

    The biggest technical challenge Stelter had to face was issues with technology, such as poor service on his phone and not having internet. These issues hindered him greatly since he was not able to get the news out to his editors. Luckily, Twitter was his easiest form of communication and allowed him to get small pieces of information out to his readers as well as his editors.
    His first instinct should have been to “do no harm”.

  48. kaitlinsteinberg says:

    Stelter’s largest challenge was a lack of cell phone service, something I, too, have been encountering here in Columbia. I understand how vital it is to have reliable service, even when working on a story about the fair in a city full of internet-ready computers. I can’t imagine the frustration Stelter felt at being so disconnected. I marvel at the number of steps Stelter took to get a single story out–from observing, to Tweeting, to turning Tweets into copy. At the time the tornado hit, I hadn’t thought about how reporting was being done from Joplin, only that it was. Stelter’s story is, as you suspected, a great insight into what it can be like to cover news in the real world, outside of Columbia.

    Stelter said his first instinct upon arriving was “first, do no harm,” which is a refreshing notion for a journalist. Stelter went beyond this mantra, to actually help people. I tend to think of journalists in a reporting bubble, observing, but not participating. In a disaster zone, however, everything changes, and anyone around is forced to become part of the story.

  49. cmccollom says:

    Stelter said this was the first natural disaster he covered and his “instinct should be ‘first, do no harm.'” The technical challenges Stelter faced while covering the tornado in Joplin were his phone dying. Then not long after he started charging his phone he began to lose cell service. Stelter had to work around issues with the cell service by text messaging the New York Times newsroom. He also tried to send e-mails but they would not sent out. Instagram and Twitter were also of use to him during the time of his calls dropping and e-mails not sending out.

  50. Stetler said that his first instinct in reporting on a natural disaster for the first time was “first, do no harm”. Living in such a technologically advanced generation, his biggest challenge was having poor reception on his cell phone. So many parts of reporting in today’s society is Twitter, Facebook, uploading images, and other instant forms of communication. While he was unable to do this as quickly as usual, this posed a bit of a challenge.

    I have a very close friend who was deeply affected by the tornado in Joplin, losing her home and many of her and her family’s belongings. While nobody in her family was harmed, I heard numerous stories of tragedy, rebuilding, and faith. Stetler did a great job in covering this story, and I think my biggest challenge would be conveying all of the many emotions involved with such a natural disaster without digging too personally or offending anybody.

  51. khill87 says:

    I think one of the most powerful messages Stetler vocalizes in the post is that, as a journalist, it’s a requirement to get out of your comfort zone. Stetler’s decision to walk right up to victims of the disaster (though he clearly points out that his main concern is to cause no harm) and try to put a human face on catastrophe. The anecdotes about the Johnson family were what got him published in the New York Times almost immediately. He wasn’t afraid to enter parts of town that other journalists seemed to shy away from, due to the devastation of the storm.

    We don’t have to take leaps of courage as large as Stetler does routinely in his pursuit of the Joplin stories. But we should be prepared to when the moment arises.

  52. Whitney Sommers says:

    1. Stelter was faced with many technical challenges in Joplin. Due to the last minute decision to go, he had no map, instructions, boots or even a pen to write with. He was unable to relay his information quickly to New York due to the lack of available resources such as internet and cell phone service. He was largely limited to texting in his information. And of course the weather was a challenge as well.

    2. Stetler said that his first instinct for covering a disaster was to “first, do no harm.”

  53. jessedbishop says:

    He had several difficulties in covering the disaster, but inconsistent access to a wireless network was the obstacle he seemed to deal with more than anything. In a digital age where immediacy is king, lacking a connection to the outside world can kill a story. Everything else he dealt with while there was secondary. Lacking a pen or a place to stay can be overcome. Without the internet or phone reception, the story doesn’t happen.

    His first instinct was to do no harm. Nothing too complex about that. I did find it interesting, though, that he didn’t extend much of a helping hand, either. He went to Joplin to tell the story (which does help), not as a rescue worker, but I would find it difficult to visit a disaster site and simply report.

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