Martina Johnson is Newsroom Manager at Observer Media Group in Antigua. Observer Radio provided coverage of the events before, during and after Hurricane Irma on September 6 and 7, 2017.
She is a former executive member of the ACM and speaks here with ACM president, Wesley Gibbings:
Q: What did Observer Radio do to mobilise resources for coverage of Hurricane Irma?
A: We reached out and engaged a number of media volunteers with experience to provide newsroom support for coverage before, during and after the storm to give the public the best possible coverage and assistance.
The extra staff was also to allow everyone to get required relief/breaks so they don’t burn out. Of course they got a stipend. We also engaged a chef to provide meals to ensure everyone was well fed … nourishment is important. The company purchased all the other required canned meals, clothing and special equipment needed to keep us protected when outdoors for coverage … raincoats, rain boots, flashlights, jackets, rough terrain patrol vehicles etc
Q: What was the reaction of your news/technical crew to the challenge they knew they were going to face?
A: Everyone on the select team was eager/ willing to work and go the extra mile. It was like a normal work day for those of us who covered storms before and for the new staff, it appeared they were excited to get in and work.
Q: What was life like at the station at the height of the hurricane? What are the emotions you detected?
A: Although serious about our work on air and online, behind the scenes we were calm, relaxed and it was actually a family like atmosphere. Some staff seemed excited.
Q: Was any member of staff direction affected? Loss of property? Injury?
A: No to all.
Q: How do you feel about the quality of coverage provided to listeners and, later, to readers during and following the hurricane?
A: The coverage did not go according to plan because our system shut down several times, our antenna was affected, and this made some of us frustrated.
The event also highlighted a need for change on how coverage is approached, setting stricter shifts in terms of rotating staff for coverage, having a better handle on identifying the real needs of the people during the storm and matching those needs with the staff best suited to lead that aspect of the coverage. Hindsight is 20/20
Q: What would be your advice to journalists who have never been through something like this?
A: Plan, stay calm, observe those with experience and remember team work is most important. Don’t make the coverage political.