Why journalists cover natural disasters


Earthquakes, tornados, tsunamis, hurricanes, oh my!

Natural disasters ravish through towns, destroy everything in their path, and leave people in devastating and life-threatening situations. Often, they happen with little or no warning and occur more frequently today, than they have in the past. When they do occur, most civilians seek shelter, run the opposite direction and pray they still have something for which to come back; yet such disasters are every journalists’ dream.

Maybe I shouldn’t include all journalists’ in this category and narrow it down to most photojournalists. And don’t get me wrong. The dream is not to experience the natural disaster itself, but rather, to capture the tragedy, damage and destruction after it has passed.

Since most natural disasters occur with little or no warning, one can’t just up and decide to go to Japan because a giant tsunami is occurring next Thursday (nor would one want to do so). Also, it is very difficult to be in the place of a natural disaster because they seem to happen on the opposite side of the world and can be hard to get to (the most recent natural disaster took place in the Philippines). And when they do happen, the last place ANYONE wants to be, is in the direct path of a tsunami (Could you imagine being on the beach and seeing a 50-foot wave coming ashore … if you did see that, you surely wouldn’t live to tell about it).

Most importantly natural disasters are dangerous. They cause destruction not only to physical structures but also to human beings. Many people endure injuries, go missing and are even killed. Natural disasters have a tendency of taking away and limiting resources as well. After a storm, resources become scarce; basic living essentials-food, water, and shelter-are hard to find and doctors are limited due to availability, limited medication and a continuous intake of injured people.

Though natural disasters are devastating and depressing, they produce jaw-dropping news stories and photographs. Stories capture the numerical data — the amount of damage, how many people were affected by it,-as well as continuous coverage of the recovery and reconstruction process. Photos, on the other hand, truly capture the impact and damage of the devastation in its greatest form; they allow you to place yourself in the midst of the destruction even if you’re a million miles away.

Think Hurricane Katrina (2005), the earthquake in Haiti (2010), the Japanese tsunami (2011), and, most recently typhoon Haiyan (2013) and the outbreak of tornadoes throughout the U.S. Midwest just last Sunday. I bet you remember more about the images you saw then the stories you read.

However, not all journalists are capable of experiencing the aftermath of a natural disaster. Natural disasters literally, physically, and emotionally destroy people. Journalists and photographers are faced with emotional turmoil, come across screaming children separated from their parents, witness people half-alive with missing limbs and walk around an endless number of dead bodies. Once someone experiences such devastating circumstances, they are changed forever. It takes a tough stomach and some serious perspective in order to cover such tragedies.

For those of us that do have the stomach (or at least think we do) to experience trauma, natural disasters are a chance to truly tell the story of hardship and devastation. Some of the best photographs have been those of war and natural disaster. With natural disaster comes the opportunity for the production of amazing, yet shocking, documentary photographic work.

For tips on covering natural disasters visit http://www.newssafety.org/page.php?page=5926

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