3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Covering the Moore, Oklahoma tornado

Every week, I will shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

This seems to be way too familiar an occurrence.

Tornadoes take hold mainly during the springtime, and this year they have struck numerous states across the South and Southeast. The latest one, an EF5 tornado that leveled buildings and homes across Moore, Okla., left at least 24 dead and hundreds injured.

The hardest part in dealing with these tragedies, I think, is trying to make sense of them. The same applies to covering them as journalists.

This week, I picked out three examples from the coverage of the Moore tornado in which the journalists and storytellers did not try to impose their own beliefs or wills on the situation. They simply conveyed it and let the horror — and the emotions that followed, both positive and negative — speak for itself.

A tornado hits Moore, Oklahoma (5/20/13, The New Yorker): A month ago, I praised Amy Davidson of the New Yorker for her coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings. In that case, I appreciated her ability to take a stand about a difficult issue.

In this case, I appreciate her abilities to simply capture the details and atmosphere of a scene.

Davidson wrote this story as the specific information about the tornado was still developing; the twister’s death count and EF rating had yet to be officially determined. She doesn’t run for her lack of answers; she embraces them. Davidson aggregates the most piercing details from the first day of the tornado and presents them in a clear and sympathetic way, acknowledging both the potential big-picture ramifications and the immediate, visceral reactions.

Tornadoes wreak havoc in US (5/22/13, Big Picture/boston.com): Speaking of aggregation, no one compiles and appreciates photos like the folks at the Big Picture.

Tornadoes physically go by so quickly, and they wreak such disaster that few of us on the outside are truly able to take in the massiveness of them in the moment.

But not this time. In this photo gallery, the curators at the Big Picture choose photos that capture moments in time with their rawest emotion. They also capture the power and strength of the Moore tornado, both during and after it blew through the city.

Oklahoma tornado survivor finds dog buried under rubble (5/20/13, CBS News): Here it is: the raw video that has swept Facebook pages and Twitter feeds across America.

Sometimes, a visual storyteller’s best option is to simply capture the raw action and present it to the viewer as such. You cannot help but be moved by the action here: Barbara Garcia, an older woman who talks about how her dog was buried under her home, then watches in amazement as the dog pokes out its head and appears.

In a vacuum, perhaps, one could refer to this as a positive moment. For me — and, I think, for many — on that day, this was something different: a cathartic moment. After being emotionally paralyzed by the power and damage of the Moore tornado, we got to see this beautiful clip of video that brought all our emotions to the surface.


Have a suggestion for “3 Great Stories of the Week”? E-mail me at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com.

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