Glad to be back in town

Published 9:35 pm Saturday, September 3, 2011

There’s something about a good, old-fashioned hurricane that reminds a community newspaper editor why he’s still in the business after more than 25 years.

Nobody wants to see families’ lives destroyed in natural disasters, but there’s no feeling for many journalists quite like covering the story of a community that comes together in the face of a crisis. Whenever the forecast shows a tropical storm gathering strength in the Atlantic, I find myself praying that we will be spared its wrath, while at the same time anticipating the adrenaline spike that comes as we ramp up coverage before and after the storm.

Clearly it’s a bag full of mixed emotions that I carry to work with me on such days.

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During the last couple of weeks, those emotions were further complicated by the fact that during two of the biggest stories to hit Suffolk since I joined the staff of the Suffolk News-Herald, I was in Tennessee on vacation.

As I sat on the fourth-floor balcony of my hotel room on Aug. 23, checking email and relaxing while my wife and grandchildren were off on a trail ride, I felt the building tremble and entertained a fleeting thought that we were having an earthquake. As it turned out, we were — back in Virginia. Within minutes, I had been told about the tremblor by a friend in New York, and I was on the phone to Tracy Agnew, back at the SNH office.

As I reeled off a list of earthquake-related stories we should cover, I realized my staff was in for a long day and night at work. I was relieved that they and my loved ones were safe back in Virginia, and I briefly considered how fortunate I was to be headed out for a swim in the pool with the grandchildren, instead of hunkering down in the newsroom. But I could not shake the feeling that I’d missed out on a day that everyone at the paper would remember and look back on with pride.

And then on Friday, as it became clear that we’d have to return to Suffolk in the midst of Hurricane Irene so that my mother would not have to deal with the storm on her own, I found myself again torn between wanting to enjoy my vacation and wanting to be a part of the craziness that describes a newsroom in the midst of breaking news.

When we finally arrived home at about 6 p.m. Saturday, having made a harrowing drive into the teeth of the storm, I was once again thankful to find my loved ones safe, thankful we were blessed with a safe trip home and thankful for a competent, committed newsroom staff that did an outstanding job of informing Suffolk about the storm as it approached and blew through town.

My small contributions from afar and once I was back in Suffolk amounted to little, compared to all their hard work. I’m proud of them all.