Covering the tornado


Because writing is the way that I make my living, most of the stories I write are either assignments from my editor or stories that I’ve pitched that I think will be of interest to readers. Often I don’t realize that I’m interested in a topic until I start reporting it, and I find that I’m very interested in a subject that I had never thought much about.  For instance, I recently wrote about broadband in rural areas, a subject I never really gave much thought to before Mary Turck asked me to write an article, but I found it very interesting to learn more about the issue.  That is, in fact, one of my favorite parts of being a freelance journalist.  I get to learn about all sorts of things and speak with experts in all different kinds of fields. 

But there are some occasions when there are stories that I simply HAVE to write about, and the tornado that hit the Twin Cities last week is one example. 

Like many people, I was completely glued to my computer screen for hours as soon as I heard about the tornado. The radio was on, and I kept checking Twitter and Facebook for updates.  I kept listening for where the tornado had hit, hoping that nobody that I knew had been hurt. 

I began calling people that I knew, both in Fridley, where I had covered stories for about the Park Plaza Cooperative manufactured home community, and in North Minneapolis, where I know quite a few people through my reporting for TC Daily Planet over the years. 

There was a certain awkwardness about those phone calls. On the one hand, I was calling out of concern, but on the other, I was calling to find out news.  There’s kind of a delicate relationship between writer and sources, I’ve found. My sources are people I’ve met because I’ve written about them or about issues they’ve been involved with.  In some cases, people who already were my friends have turned into sources.  In other cases, I’ve written so much about people that I can’t help feeling there’s a friendship there.  

I ended up writing a story about residents assessing the damage and looking toward the future, even though the story had not been assigned to me.  I couldn’t help myself.  I just had to write it.  And then I wrote about Sisters Camelot, which I was going to write about anyway, and they happened to be in North Minneapolis.  This weekend I’ve been talking to volunteers about their experiences, and later on this week I’ll be publishing a piece about coordination efforts.  

In talking to people, and in my trips to North Minneapolis in the last week, I’ve been struck by how North Side residents have worked together in this disaster.  Neighbors helped neighbors, pitching in, looking after each other. And volunteers came in from all over the state. It makes me happy to live here, because that’s the Minnesota that I know.  Whether you’re from North Minneapolis, or South Minneapolis, or from outside of the Twin Cities, there really is a caring spirit that is at the heart of this place.  People make fun of Minnesota nice.  And maybe I’m being a bit too Pollyanna about this, but this last week has made me proud to be from Minneapolis and Minnesota.