Deadly floodwaters overtook parts of Central and South Georgia in the summer of 1994. Representing the state Baptist newspaper, The Christian Index, editor Bill Neal and I headed out of Atlanta quickly to give thorough coverage.
A levee had failed in Macon causing extensive damage. Americus had gotten the most rain in the shortest period of time — causing some mobile homes to be swept away.
The sudden rise of the Flint River left Albany, Ga., looking like one big lake. A Dept. of Natural Resources officer took me in his small boat to get a photo of the Calvary Baptist Church steeple poking through the water.
We covered the event and corresponding relief efforts in great detail.It became a pattern for news coverage of disaster relief responses to future floods, tornadoes and hurricanes.
What Baptist congregations, associations, conventions and other groups do in such times of need is most impressive. Cooking units, mud-out teams and chainsaw crews are everywhere.
Medical volunteers are also an integral part of Baptist responses to natural disasters. The total impact of disaster-related volunteer work is immeasurable.
However, there have been so many natural disasters in recent years that it causes an editor to wonder: “How much of this is news?”
The question has nothing to do with the importance of these significant contributions. But news is supposed to have something “new” in it.
No question, some “new news” emerges from disaster relief work. For example, in March 2006, 19-year-old Trista Wright made headlines.
While tearing damaged drywall from a house in New Orlean’s St. Bernard Parish, the student from Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah saw some $100 bills poking out of the wall. She soon turned up more than $30,000 that had been stored there.
The owner was unaware of the new-found wealth and assumed her father had stored it there. Raised in the Depression, he was probably fearful of banks and investment firms, she surmised.
(Stock market experiences like yesterday makes the man’s actions more understandable.)
My admiration for Baptist disaster relief efforts (by all kinds of Baptists) remains very high. But, as an editor, I struggle with how much coverage to give to each and every situation.
Would another photo of a chainsaw-wielding or soup-dipping Baptist draw interest?
Volunteers do their work for a purpose more noble than getting their photos in a Baptist publication. But, on the other hand, their contributions should not go unnoticed.
And the truth be known: Baptists tend to be better at working together in disaster relief efforts than adopting resolutions and doctrinal statements. One tends to unify while the other tends to divide.
Perhaps that in itself is newsworthy.