“Would you mind if I take the day off tomorrow? I need to try to find a place to live.”
The question immediately stopped by in my tracks. For a second or two, I had trouble responding while I processed what was being asked.
“Of course,” I replied. “What happened?”
The story that followed was all too common inside Nexstar ABC affiliate WMBB-TV in Panama City. Category 4 Hurricane Michael impacted just about every employee one way or another. A few lost their homes; many experienced damage. Some were dealing with family members now looking for new places to live.
I spent the last work week in Panama City helping guide the exhausted but determined team of journalists at the station. I’ve helped organize coverage of major news events before, but this was different. In this case, the employees themselves were also victims.
In the hustle and bustle, you would’ve had no idea. They were intense, determined, and focused. When they were in the zone, they looked just liked anyone else.
When they finally got a moment to stop and breathe, they had time to reflect. Their stories would break your heart yet inspire you at the same time. While their priority was helping their community and serving as a voice for others, they had their own stories to tell. I documented a few of them below:
Sadly, there were many more stories just like these.
It was tough to leave this group last Friday morning. After five days of watching them step up and meet every challenge head-on, I started to take pride in each of their accomplishments.
While I had the opportunity to return to normalcy, normal isn’t a word they’ll be able to use for months (if not years). I feel guilt over that.
I left knowing they’re in great hands under the leadership of news director Tom Lewis. The management team at WMBB was compassionate and caring throughout everything. They never told employees to come to work — they asked. I watched as the general manager required people to take a day to take care of personal matters. I learned so much observing their interactions with the staff.
To everyone in the newsroom — it all feels like a blur right now, but I want you to keep focused on three words: This Is Why.
For all the days you feel like you aren’t making a difference (covering car wrecks, ribbon cuttings, and bake sales), you’ll have this experience to look back on and remember why you got into this field of work. You chose this profession to help people. That’s exactly what you’ve been doing and will continue to do.
When you get tired, when you get fed up, when you get burned out, remember: This Is Why.
It was an honor to work alongside you. Keep making us all proud!
And thanks for helping me remember my “why.”