Every Thursday, I receive a Google alert for the word “derecho.” I set it just about a year ago following the record-breaking, powerful storm that swept across the Midwest, which I wrote about in this newsletter
at the time:
“The August 10th storm covered a 770 mile stretch from South Dakota to Ohio over the course of 14 hours, with winds surpassing 100 mph at points – equivalent to a major hurricane. One Iowan described the sound during the storm as ‘emphasized
.’ At least four people were killed. Homes, buildings, farming equipment, cars, trees – nearly anything outside was fair game for the winds, which left structures twisted and mangled.”
This summer, I went to Iowa to report on the lasting impacts of the derecho on farmers, and I ended up zooming out to look more broadly at how it changed the ecosystem. Along the way, I detailed conversations I was having on the ground and questions my reporting was raising on my Patreon
, using the space as something of a reporter’s notebook. A huge thanks as always to those supporters – and don’t forget to check the page, you got a new post from me yesterday!
Last week, my article was published on The Counter
to coincide with the anniversary of the derecho. My editors and I believed it would be one of many features on the topic that day, and we worked hard to differentiate it from the others we anticipated seeing fill our feeds, digging up exclusive statistics and bringing in varied perspectives. So, I was surprised when I got my Thursday alert to see that we were wrong.
Now, I want to stress that there was a great deal of essential local reporting from outlets that have been following this story closely across their communities, including Iowa Public Radio
and The Gazette
. But coverage aimed at an out-of-state audience was sparse – I came across a piece from The Weather Channel
and one from CBS News
, but no mention from most major outlets despite the significance of the thunderstorm, which was the costliest in modern U.S. history.
This week, I similarly saw local media
in California commemorate the anniversary of the CZU Lightning Complex fire, which sparked a year ago and went on to consume hundreds of homes, as well as historic redwood trees. In national media, though, there was little coverage one year later.
These absences surprised me, considering how common disaster anniversary coverage has been in the national newsrooms I’ve worked in throughout my career. In fact, it was often difficult for me to get work commissioned on an impacted region until
that date. Admittedly, it’s been a sore spot for me in the past, as I believe there is important and necessary work that should be done following these communities at all times, not just once a year. But researchers
have found that anniversary coverage also carries particular weight.
It can offer space to hold those in power accountable for the promises they made 12 months before. For renewing the push to make changes that can prevent such events from happening again. And on a more personal level, it can help survivors feel less alone at a moment they’re often feeling particularly vulnerable, as I learned in some of my reporting
earlier this year.
Local media often does that incredibly well, as seen in the examples I listed above. Crucially, though, national media is influential
in generating donations back to areas that are typically starting to run low on funds one year out from that initial influx of aid. And without these stories in national media, it can be harder to identify patterns or problems across state lines, as well as for other locales to learn which strategies were successful and which challenges persist.
This isn’t to criticize newsrooms, which are understandably strapped trying to keep up with the unrelenting pace of disasters these days, but rather to raise a red flag about a trend I’ve noticed this summer that has concerning implications moving forward. And it’s a reminder that, despite all of the breaking disaster news out there these days, there are still a lot of voices that aren’t being heard.