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News organizations are making plans to cover Hurricane Harvey not just for the coming hours or days, but for weeks.
The hurricane is expected to stall over South Texas and parts of Louisiana into the middle of next week, which means it will be a long-duration event for emergency officials and an ongoing story for journalists in the region.
Some national news outlets have trucked in food and other essentials with the expectation that staffers may need supplies while covering widespread flooding.
Staffers at some local newsrooms have set up air mattresses and brought their pets to work because they know they’re going to be away from home for a while.
“We’re prepositioning reporters and photographers, stocking up on food and water and other prep work,” San Antonio Express-News editor Mike Leary told CNN.
The Express-News and other papers have turned off their paywalls so users have complete access to storm coverage.
And television networks have added extra hours of news coverage for what the National Hurricane Center calls the first “major” hurricane to make landfall in the United States in 12 years.
“Major” is defined as Category 3 or higher, and Harvey reached that status on Friday afternoon, hours before the eyewall reached shore.
Major coverage for a major storm
Television and newspaper reporters have been positioned along the Gulf Coast in cities like Corpus Christi and Galveston. There’s no shortage of live pictures, since there are so many local TV stations in central and south Texas.
But national news outlets have been careful to position other crews at inland locations in Houston and San Antonio, where flooding could be a problem for days to come.
ABC, for example, has two correspondents standing by in Houston. The broadcast network is scheduling six hours of special storm coverage on Saturday morning, from 5 a.m. until 11 a.m. ET, led by its weekend “Good Morning America” team.
Cable news channels covered Harvey almost exclusively on Friday — one of the only days of the year when Trump administration developments weren’t the dominant story.
CNN, Fox News and MSNBC will be live in the overnight hours when the hurricane is expected to make landfall. MSNBC said it plans to stay live until 11 p.m. ET on Saturday.
The Weather Channel began a special report at 5 a.m. on Friday and said it will stay live “until further notice.”
The Twitter storm
Hurricane Wilma was the last “major” hurricane to strike the U.S. in October 2005.
“Twitter didn’t exist when Wilma made landfall 10/24/2005,” meteorologist James Spann pointed out on Twitter.
Digital media has changed a lot even since Superstorm Sandy washed ashore in October 2012.
Newspapers like the Express-News now think in terms of “live coverage” on the web.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” managing editor Jamie Stockwell wrote to staffers at midday on Friday, telling them “our readers are depending on us for live coverage through the weekend.”
The Victoria Advocate, covering Victoria, Texas, is not printing a paper on Friday night, because its carriers have evacuated along with many other residents.
But designers are still laying out the pages of a paper and publishing the “e-edition” on the web, editor in chief Chris Cobler said.
Victoria is about 30 miles inland and is in the bullseye for historic flooding.
Web traffic to the Advocate’s web site was “easily triple a normal day” on Friday, Cobler said.
“People who left are still concerned about their homes and want to know about that,” he said.
Four reporters are embedded at emergency operations centers around the area, and about a dozen staffers are planning to live and sleep at the newspaper office for the duration.
“We’re a little nervous about power and Internet, but so far so good,” Cobler said.
Much further inland, in San Antonio, Leary said the Express-News still plans to publish in print, but he knows some deliveries will be affected.
He said he’s been receiving thankful notes from readers about the lifting of the paper’s paywall.
“I think this is a great community service,” a reader named D’mitri told him.
News you can use in a hurricane
The public service component of local media can be seen on TV, too.
Houston’s NBC affiliate, KPRC, promoted its hurricane app with this message: “We’ve experienced two historic floods in two years and that was without a hurricane. You need to be prepared.”
And the city’s CBS affiliate, KHOU, shared a story and video debunking hurricane-related rumors.
The station quoted the Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, saying that “false forecasts and irresponsible rumors on social media are interfering with efforts by the city of Houston, and its government and news media partners, to provide accurate information to the public about the expected effects” of Harvey. “Please continue to monitor mainstream news sources for updates on the weather and act accordingly as an informed resident.”
CNNMoney (New York) First published August 25, 2017: 5:36 PM ET
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