J-School Centennial Experience

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Take a Hike Ike

Posted by August Skamenca on September 8, 2008

As final preparations are made for the J-School Centennial and Reynolds Journalism Institute dedication, elsewhere preparations of a different sort are being made. There will be no pomp and pageantry, no ribbon cutting, no celebration. As Hurricane Ike barrels in to the Gulf of Mexico, plans to evacuate three million people living in the lower portion of the Houston metro-area are being reviewed. Drawn up after Hurricane Rita created gridlock and a logistical nightmare on highways in 2005, the region is now broken up in to four evacuation zones. Should a mandatory evacuation be declared, zip codes would be called and if all goes as planned contraflow would allow a timely exodus.

So far, as anyone who watches the news can attest, it’s been an active hurricane season. Working with CBS News, I just covered Hurricane Gustav in Louisiana and before that Tropical Storm Edouard. A few weeks ago, I made New York aware I’d be attending Centennial. Now, those plans are in question. I can take the time off, but I don’t seem to possess the gumption to leave when everyone else would be working so hard. All of the so-called “spaghetti plots” show Ike making a Texas landfall and I’ve been festering over my plans since last week when I was staying in a darkened hotel in downtown Baton Rouge. Parts of that city are still without electricity.

I want nothing more than to return to my alma mater for what may be the biggest event since the world’s first journalism school opened and yet even last week, I could tell my trip might have to be cancelled. Journalistically, I’ve been incredibly torn, asking myself: “how can you consider leaving?” Reporters are supposed to stick around for big news. On the other hand, it’s highly unlikely I’ll be around for the bicentennial celebration. No one has ever lived to be 127.

All kidding aside, tomorrow I’ll make a final decision. If I leave Houston for Missouri, I get to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime event with people who share my idealism for our craft. If I stay, however, I get to use talents polished at the world’s finest journalism institution when a journalist’s role is most needed. At no other time is the public service we provide paid more close attention to than during a calamity. At no other time than during extreme human suffering should journalists hold those in power to account. If he were alive today, at no other time would Walter Williams most likely prefer I skip the celebration of his gift to history and the present.

Is journalism preventing you from soaking in more journalistic knowledge at Centennial? Please feel free to share where and what projects are keeping you from coming.

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