Saturday, September 20, 2008

Linemen and lawn chairs

I've been checking the website of the Houston Chronicle almost daily since Ike hit Texas just one short week ago as a category 2 storm. One short week. But I'm sure if you talk to anybody in the affected areas of Texas they'll tell you that this past week seems like an eternity.

I've only been to Texas once and that was Dallas. I've never been to Houston and I probably couldn't recite five facts about the town even if my life depended on it.

But the reason I've been going to the Chronicle website is because I love good journalism. I've always been in awe of some of the quality journalism that's produced by newspapers in this country when they turn everybody loose on a mammoth story that's almost too big to comprehend.

The Herald did it after Andrew and won a Pulitzer for their coverage. Now it's the Chronicle's turn.

Ike and its aftermath has pushed everything else off the front page of the Chronicle.

They've been doing an amazing job of keeping their readers up to date on power restoration, the return of basic services such as trash removal. They're telling people how to get along without power, where to find water and ice and how to get help removing fallen trees.

But one of the best and most readable parts of the Chron's website are the blogs.

One in particular, Days of Ike, is a collection of posts that are entertaining and poignant vignettes of people coping with the aftermath.

Some of the posts on the blog are no more than five or six paragraphs but are amusing nonetheless.

Two days ago Claudia Feldman wrote a short appreciation of power company linemen who showed up in her neighborhood.
"They have an audience now. Folks have pulled out their lawn furniture to watch the process unfold (what else are they going to watch?). Even a white dog with black patches has come to see the return of lights to this neighborhood.

"Is it too much to say you can feel the electricity in the air?"
Chron staffer Bobby Hankinson has been hitting the washaterias - that's what they call laundromats in Houston - and mining a treasure trove of nifty little stories.
"The Downtown Washateria on Tuam feels like something out of a timewarp. The machines are that 1970s orange and the lights are just above dim. The dusty metal fans sitting on top of rows of dryers don't help the aesthetic, but they certainly help the temperature.

"Melinda Cepeda, 17, is handling the days following Ike pretty well. The Klein Forest High School senior has had the week off from school and has spent it hanging out with friends and now overseeing her five machines full of sudsy clothing."
Good journalism is just telling good stories...and the Chron has been doing a lot of that in the past seven days.

It's a sure bet they'll be a Pulitzer finalist next year for their excellent Ike coverage.

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