Assistant professor of journalism and creative media Dr. Chandra Clark just released new videos about covering Hurricanes Florence and Michael, which struck North Carolina and Florida in 2018. They’re part of a larger documentary series named “First Informers” which highlights the role of broadcasters during disasters.
A collaborative effort with the University of Oklahoma (OU), the award-winning series documents the valuable role broadcasters play in times of emergency following severe weather events. Viewers hear directly from news anchors, field reporters, meteorologists and local officials who live and work in communities affected by the weather events.
“With the spotlight on journalists right now, it’s very dear to my heart to highlight the crucial role that they’re playing and how many of them are affected by these disasters, too,” said Clark. “They’re experiencing the same pain and going through the same adjustments as the people they serve.”
The First Informers videos are shared with regulators at the Federal Communications Commission, the White House, members of Congress, and state broadcast associations, to demonstrate the unique role broadcasting fulfills during times of emergency. To that effect, the Omnibus spending bill, which passed into law in March of 2018, included an allocation of $1 billion dollars for radio and television broadcasters for the spectrum repack, and it broadened the definition of “first responders” to include these broadcasters. This provides special consideration for broadcasters in times of emergency, including access to necessities such as emergency generators crisis areas.
“These videos served as a reminder to Washington lawmakers and regulators of the enduring ‘first informer’ role that can be played by local broadcasters in times of crisis,” said Dennis Wharton, Executive Vice President of Communications, National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). “In the final analysis, it is generally the local radio and TV station that ‘gets the word out’ and saves lives in Tornado Alley, in California wildfires, during Superstorm Sandy and when there is an Amber Alert. NAB is proud of our partnership with Chandra and University of Alabama students who have performed exceptional work capturing the depth and breadth of local broadcasters’ work during ‘life or death’ situations.”
The First Informers project series has documented local broadcasting in several notable severe storm events over the past 8 years. Together with Clark, Prof. Scott Hodgson of the University of Oklahoma and a collective of students from Oklahoma and Alabama have partnered with the National Association of Broadcasters and the Broadcast Education Association to produce 31 videos (or mini-documentaries). These include the 2011 EF4 tornado in Tuscaloosa, the 2011 EF5 tornado in Joplin, the 2012 hurricane known as “Superstorm Sandy,” a 2013 EF5 tornado which struck Moore, Oklahoma, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017 and Hurricanes Florence and Michael in 2018.
“There is no way projects of this magnitude can be done without a team effort,” says Hodgson, who serves as director for these projects that Dr. Clark produces. “The time from when the weather emergency hits until boots hit the ground from our crew is incredibly short. It takes an exceptional producer to pull off what Chandra is able to do. Her vast wealth of industry experience combined with her innate storytelling ability and leadership skills is the only reason we can do these projects. Chandra is extremely unique and one of the best nationwide in academia today.” The effect of these documentaries goes beyond their intended target audience. Hodgson notes, “The impact Chandra has had on the students working on these grants has been immense. There’s a group of exceptionally successful alumni from both our schools that point to Dr. Clark as a key Influence in their educational experience. She has such a reputation at OU that I have students fighting for who will get to work with her.”
The National Association of Broadcasters is the voice for the nation’s radio and television broadcasters. As the premier trade association for broadcasters, NAB advances the interests of its members in federal government, industry and public affairs; improves the quality and profitability of broadcasting; encourages content and technology innovation; and spotlights the important and unique ways stations serve their communities. For more information, visit nab.org.
The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit cis.ua.edu/research.