ICFJ Program Gives Hispanic Journalists New Tools to Protect Community from Florida Hurricanes

Aug 82008

In this interview with former ICFJ Communications Assistant Joi-Marie McKenzie, Enrique Flor discusses how ICFJ's Disaster Coverage Program taught him the importance of disaster preparedness. At the completion of the hands-on workshop Flor, a reporter for South Florida's Spanish-language El Sentinel, encouraged his editor to produce a disaster preparedness plan for the newspaper. He also worked with a team to publish a special edition on the topic for the Hispanic community bracing for this year's hurricane season.

Q: What did you take away from the Disaster Coverage Program?

A. The Disaster Coverage program gave me strategic tools to better report during a crisis, and also the opportunity to understand that, as a journalist, I can provide citizens a kind of map to help navigate society during emergencies.

But, in order to assume this role, I had to be better prepared. I grew up in Peru where I did investigative reporting after earthquakes (South of Peru, 2002). I covered the government's mismanagement of public resources and how that caused a painfully slow reconstruction process.

In South Florida citizens need different information: specifically how to better prepare for hurricanes.

Q: How can better coverage of disasters help the Hispanic community in Florida?

A. The Disaster Coverage program finished right before the hurricane season started in South Florida in June. It was an excellent opportunity to apply the issues that were discussed during the workshop in Washington and New Orleans. In fact, El Sentinel prepared a special edition about the hurricane season that included a couple stories about the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and how Hispanics were participating in that process. That special edition, prepared in a work team, gave citizens a plan and resources to be better prepared for a disaster, such as emergency phone numbers, evacuation routes, etc.

Approximately, 22 percent of the population in Broward County and 16 percent in Palm Beach is Hispanic. The people in these two counties need comprehensive information to be better prepared for an emergency.

Q: Are Hispanic journalists in South Florida well-prepared to cover disasters?

A. Spanish-newspapers in South Florida, like others Hispanic media in the U.S., work with a reduced budget, few staff reporters and scarce opportunities to be part of journalism training workshops, especially during hard economic times. For that reason, journalists are forced to report instinctively in these situations.

Programs like the workshop organized by ICFJ and supported by the McCormick Foundation help journalists and media companies improve the quality of our work. It also gives us an opportunity to build the trust and loyalty of our audience---the community we work for.

Q: Have you passed along the tools you got in this program to your colleagues in the newsroom?

A. When I came back from the workshop, my editor at El Sentinel and I discussed the need to have a plan to cover disasters. She then asked other editors of South Florida Sun Sentinel for help creating our own plan. The English newsroom has experience in this kind of coverage and thanks to the information from other editors we were able to develop an emergency strategy.

Q: How difficult is it to get these in-depth stories published?

A. It was not difficult because disasters--especially hurricanes--are part of daily life in South Florida. Information on how to face a new hurricane season is a necessity. Our readers count on this kind of information.