Two weeks ago, Hurricane Irma was newly formed and its path was far from certain. But as meteorologists warned that this ninth named storm of 2017 had the potential to develop into a monster, the Cayman Compass newsroom began to mobilize.
We knew from past experience (“Thank you, Hurricane Ivan”) that we would need a finely choreographed effort to provide our readers, both online and in print, with fast, accurate, and meaningful coverage of this storm.
It is one of the ironies of the news business that when readers most need timely and useful information, such as in the midst of a natural disaster, it is most difficult to obtain. Communications networks frequently fail, and accessing the hardest hit areas is often difficult, if not impossible.
Days before Irma began pummeling islands in the eastern Caribbean, Compass journalist Spencer Fordin began tracking Irma’s progress, filing updates to our website – often several times a day – on the developing storm. As Irma decimated Anguilla, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin and St. Barts, additional Compass editors and reporters joined the effort.
The Compass drew upon the newsroom’s considerable reportorial experience and linguistic skills.
Reporter Ken Silva mined contacts from his years reporting in the BVI, as well as his connections in Puerto Rico; business editor Michael Klein, who speaks fluent French, translated news coming out of St. Martin (which is divided into French and Dutch halves). Journalist Kayla Young translated Spanish-language news from Cuba. Other journalists located on-the-ground sources in places such as Turks and Caicos.
Editors and reporters scoured the internet to find (and, importantly, to verify) images and videos from storm-affected areas, supplementing information being gathered here in Cayman. Others focused on relief efforts, humanitarian missions and the arrival of refugees after the storm had passed.
Meanwhile, newsroom supervisors such as Executive Editor Patrick Brendel and Managing Editor Norma Connolly “directed traffic” to ensure that amid all the Irma-related stories, local “non-hurricane” news events continued to be covered.
Unlike many other media outfits, the Compass doesn’t judge the “success” or “failure” of our newsroom by the number of “clicks” we attract online.
However, we are pleased to report that our Irma coverage (so far, about three-dozen stories plus seven videos) has drawn significant readership. For example, since we started following Irma, the six most-read stories on CaymanCompass.com (including the most-read story of 2017) were about the hurricane.
In the same time period, local and international readership has increased significantly. (Cayman – 34 percent growth, United States – 300 percent, United Kingdom – 500 percent, and Canada – 330 percent.)
What this tells us is that people across the world who were interested in Irma’s impact on the Caribbean found their way to the Compass website for the content they wanted – or needed.
Over the days, weeks and months, Irma coverage will cease to dominate the front page of our print edition and website, but we will continue to monitor and report important regional updates, issues and milestones as our fellow Caribbean communities begin the long process of recovery and renewal.