A few lessons learned in coverage

Have you ever had that metaphorical bucket of cold water poured on your head just when you thought things were going as well as they ever have?

How about 18 million gallons of cold water?

That was my “Welcome Back” greeting on Monday when I returned to work following a week-long vacation of eating poorly, drinking heavily and sleeping soundly at the Outer Banks. Refreshed and ready for the physical and mental grind of the coming summer season, I was all set to head back to work when I noticed the rolling tides in the sea when I came out my front door. The major problem I had with that visual was that I do not live waterfront. That was my front lawn sporting the heavy waves.

And, just like that, vacation was splashed away into the memory banks.

I was reminded of the NHL playoffs in April 1993. I was an avid Washington Capitals fan living in California, and found a sports bar televising Game 6 of the Capitals series against the New York Islanders. It was a great contest throughout, and the Capitals needed to win the game to force a seventh game. If they lost, the Islanders moved on to the next round and the Capitals went home for the summer.

Late in the game, Islanders star Pierre Turgeon scored a goal that clinched the series for the Islanders. Turgeon was understandably excited following his goal, and raised his arms in celebration, obviously basking in his golden moment. That’s when Capitals forward Dale Hunter came from behind and leveled him to the ice — ending Turgeon’s celebration and his involvement for the rest of the playoffs.

I felt a little like Pierre Turgeon when I saw the flooding.

My mood a bit soured, I slowly made the drive into the office. The short commute was a slalom event of fallen branches and deepening pools of water, and I pulled into the parking lot of the massive Coastal Point multiplex with a wet head and somewhat dampened enthusiasm.

Gone was the brimming optimism — replaced by a dark mood of frustration and angst. Well, I guess I know what we’ll be doing all day, I thought to myself. At least there will be plenty of news to cover.

And there was. Freelance photographer Jesse Pryor came in with a plethora of storm-related photos, and our publisher, Susan Lyons, quickly followed with a batch of her own. Our contributing columnist, Dick Rossé, dropped by to say he had photos of a research vessel that had come to shore in Bethany, and reporter Ryan Saxton soon checked in with a mop of soaked hair atop his head and a smile that smacked of enthusiasm splashed across his face.

This is good stuff, I thought.

I glanced over and saw our news editor, M. Patricia Titus, feverishly working the phones to stay on top of the situation and keeping our Web site up to date with the latest information. Our art director, Shaun Lambert, grabbed a camera and headed out into the storm to grab some more photos.

That’s when it hit me. While vacation was fantastic, and the time alone with my lovely wife definitely provided a needed rest to this weary soul, the people in this office were re-energizing me through the sheer will of their passion for covering this community.

Tricia and Shaun must have updated the Web site 17 times on Monday and Tuesday, attempting to stay current with the latest information available, while Ryan kept plugging away, even though he looked like an old sweat sock that fell into the ocean by the end of the day.

That reference also applies to the scent he was carrying on him by the end of the day, but I could go on and on about his issues with that ...

But I digress.

While the scene here was hectic, and the adrenaline was cooking, there was information that came in that certainly dampened the joy and brought the whole storm into instant perspective.

Word came down that one of the crew members aboard the troubled vessel that washed up in Bethany had died from injuries suffered during the storm.

The mood instantly changed. Gone were the smiles and gallows humor about the ferocity of the storm — replaced by a collective determination to do more, to get information out more quickly, more complete.

By Tuesday, as reports were coming in about both the damage here and in earhtquake-ravaged China, there was a somber feeling throughout the office. There was the realization that no matter what we do in our reporting, we were held hostage by the cold, hard facts of a reality that isn’t always fair.

What I saw were journalists no longer concerned about being first with the story, but rather people being worried about the safety and welfare of their community.

I tell this story because it touched me to watch it happen, and because it made me proud of their commitment to both their jobs and their community. And maybe I learned a little about myself, in the process.

The rush to deadline is a rush without peer in terms of excitement. But unbridled dedication to humanity is a much more noble cause.