June 4, 2013

Editor addresses reader storm comments

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star

CHICKASHA — I try to make it a habit of not addressing critiques of the paper or of my staff. After all, we are public servants and should be judged as such.

Issues with spelling and grammar that readers find in the paper can only be fixed with complaints and I am grateful to receive those sort of critiques.

However, I do take issue with a few readers who commented on our Facebook regarding our coverage of the  May 31 storm that ripped through Central Oklahoma.

Let me preface this by saying I was not there. I took the day off to spend some time with family in Texas, but I fully support the actions of my staff.

There were several complaints over a status update on The Express-Star's Facebook stating the staff was heading into our basement and advising readers to take shelter as well.

This update was based on information obtained from several sources including all local news stations, The National Weather Service in Norman and the Grady County Emergency Management Department.

After compiling information from all of these sources and accounting for damage done earlier that night by what is now known as the widest tornado in U.S. history, my staff thought it prudent to take cover given that the winds had shifted and the storm was on a direct path with Chickasha.

The forecasts used in making this decision called for high winds, large hail and possible tornados.

Thankfully the winds shifted east and Chickasha was not struck by this devastating tempest.

I rarely feel it's necessary to elaborate on the decision making process of news dissemination, but in this instance I think it's important for me to address a few concerns raised on our Facebook.

First, we do not have a meteorologist on staff. But, as I said earlier we, monitor several news agencies and weather organizations to give our readers the most accurate information possible. That is how we as a staff make our decisions when it comes to weather. We do not use just one source, since most conflict with each other.

Grady County is not well covered by many Oklahoma City media organizations, so for many, we are the first source of information. We have been told this repeatedly by many of our readers and I've learned this lesson the hard way in the past. This is why we will continue to update our readers on weather situations in Grady County.

We do not control the actions of our readers. We simply report the information as it comes to us, and in this instance, we gave advice about what we thought our readers should do at the time. We are not forcing anyone to do anything, and we are certainly not inciting a panic. A well trained journalist should know the difference between a non-life threatening situation and one that results in great loss of life.

In this situation, and others moving forward, we will always err on the side of caution.  

Thankfully, we were wrong this time.  

Lastly, I encourage our readers to "like" the Grady County Emergency Management, Chickasha Police Department page and the Grady County Sheriff's Office page.

These three organizations work as diligently as we do to get important information out in an attempt to save lives.

Also, I want to thank the many readers who defended our decision making process Friday night.

This is the reader's paper and always will be, but unprovoked and unwarranted attacks are worthy of a response.