As the long snow…

Sam Black

As the long snowy winter on the Northern plains turned into a long snowy spring, the country watched both rivers and tensions rise.
Nowhere, perhaps, was as much devastation visible as in my hometown of Grand Forks, N.D. The dikes broke in that town in mid-April, and journalists from all over the country and from the Daily, were there to record the devastation.
During the chaos, I learned some things about the news profession. I know from experience what a thrill it is to be where the news is happening, to have answers to the questions you ask, and to have an outlet for what you write. However, I believe I used to underestimate the importance of solid reporting skills.
During the memorable night of March 14, when the river was forcing midnight evacuations of Grand Forks, I heard a woman call into the local talk radio station and tell horror stories of the dikes breaking all over town and how “hundreds of people are being washed away and drowning” as she put it.
Of course, she was frantic and exaggerating, but at the time, it might as well have been fact. Journalists had to call and reassure the station and the town of Grand Forks, that those reports were false. In the end, no one from Grand Forks died in the flood. To good journalists and good media consumers, accuracy matters.
After the flood waters were receding, the people of Grand Forks were given a handsome $15 million anonymous donation by a wealthy California woman. They called her the “angel.”
The same journalists that dutifully recorded the flood catastrophe, also reported the identity of the donor. They made some enemies in the community when they did so, but they did their job and they told the news with truth, accuracy, and fairness.
These journalists put aside their personal flood problems in order to share what was happening in the evacuated city of 50,000 people. To journalists, getting the story out and getting it right are important values.
I was fortunate enough to share my personal flood story in a column in the Daily and, in a way, to heal myself. It was strange seeing national coverage about my childhood heroes, but it wasn’t strange at all seeing them act like heroes.
I hadn’t planned on it before the flood, but now I have decided to return home after graduation to help rebuild the city and the local newspaper, the Grand Forks Herald.
Recently I have been asked how my family is doing?.
“They’re dry,” I tell people. “The water missed our house, but the effects of the flood didn’t.”
My father has had to quit his job and now is working 140-hour weeks as a stringer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency; my mom spends a lot of her spare time concentrating on flood recovery issues; and my little brother and sister were forced to quit school a month early. But my family is very lucky.
There are tens of thousands of residents in the Valley who lost their mementos to the dirty river water. Hundreds are being forced to sell their homes and find higher ground, thousands have to gut and remodel their businesses and basements.
For the first time in my life I can say the town isn’t going to be the same as it always has been. And I can’t wait to return and help record its inevitable recovery and self-discovery.