Vicki Wheaton, an editor and writer at the Compass, was the first member of our staff to detect Tuesday night’s earthquake. “Everybody feel that tremor?” she asked newsroom colleagues via WhatsApp shortly before 10 p.m. Norma Connolly, managing editor of the newspaper, responded to Ms. Wheaton, “Are you sure Pumpkin (her beloved cat) hasn’t fallen off the sofa again?”
No, it wasn’t Pumpkin.
Within minutes, Compass reporters and editors confirmed that a 7.8 magnitude earthquake had struck midway between Cayman and Honduras’ Swan Islands. (Later, the quake would be downgraded to 7.6 on the Richter Scale).
And so, the Compass newsroom came alive long after the next day’s newspaper had “gone to bed.”
As Managing Editor Connolly and others coordinated efforts, reporters scoured official sources and made phone calls to emergency management officials.
The Compass’ first article was published online at 10:21 p.m., warning readers that potentially hazardous conditions might develop. Our newspaper was one of the first news outlets, anywhere in the world, to relay weather experts’ warnings that the earthquake might generate tsunami waves that could affect the Caribbean region, including the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Mexico, Honduras, Cuba, Belize, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
When the U.S. National Weather Service eventually removed the Cayman Islands from its tsunami advisory map, the Compass immediately updated the article, which had by then been widely read and shared by readers looking for potentially life-or-death information. The Compass continued to update its online coverage until the “all-clear” was sounded around midnight.
By noon on Wednesday, our late night story had been viewed nearly 30,000 times on www.caymancompass.com — with nearly 15,000 views coming from Cayman. The remaining readers came from 124 countries, ranging alphabetically from Algeria to Zambia.
Additionally, our updates on Facebook had reached more than 27,000 additional followers (more than 250 of whom commented or “shared” the news with their friends online).
In a note of thanks, one reader wrote to the Compass: “I searched for information on caymanprepared.ky, cnn.com and many other sites and nobody had any information about this tsunami.”
We’re not sharing these figures for self-congratulatory reasons — well, maybe just a little — but to illustrate the local and international reach of our publication. Such impact during breaking news events doesn’t suddenly materialize out of nowhere. It is the product of years of daily effort by our journalists to build and maintain a relationship of trust with our readers.
When something is happening that involves or may affect Cayman, you can expect the Compass to provide timely, relevant and useful information, in a variety of media, including the print newspaper you’re holding right now, our website, online video and social media networks.
In this age of anonymous blogs, so-called “citizen journalism” and special interests labeling news they don’t agree with as “fake,” it is essential for a community to have a team of professional journalists able to sift through the noise and the nonsense and report the news that matters in a straightforward, timely and objective manner.
We hope that the bond of trust between the Compass and our readers is that when we do make mistakes, we unhesitatingly correct them — quickly, completely and prominently.
Media outlets unwilling to correct their errors (unless under the threat of likely lawsuits) are indeed practicing “fake news” and do damage to the very profession they claim membership in.