Andrew Kragie, a Duke University alumnus and metro reporter for the Houston Chronicle, joined students and faculty via Skype Sept. 22 to discuss his experience covering Hurricane Harvey. The conversation was hosted by the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy, as part of its Monuts Fridays series.
Kragie graduated from Duke in 2015 with a double major in public policy and political science. Though he did not pursue the Policy Journalism and Media Studies certificate while he was an undergraduate, he wrote a column for The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, during his junior year and took two journalism courses.
After graduating, Kragie moved to Houston, where his girlfriend — now fiancée — attended medical school. He quickly identified that he wanted to work for the Houston Chronicle, the city’s major print media outlet, and joined the staff as a copy editor. He later was promoted to metro reporter and has been reporting full-time for almost two years.
In anticipation of the hurricane, Kragie’s editors sent him to the Harris County Office of Emergency Management. He spent two days on-site tracking the storm’s development, live-tweeting press conferences and writing other content.
Kragie was relieved the evening of Aug. 26, enabling him to return home to his second-floor apartment before the worst of the flooding occurred. Although his complex wasn’t affected, five feet of water accumulated on surrounding roads.
“People were turning to us not just for local government watchdogging and crime coverage and schools. [They wanted to know,] ‘What grocery stores are open? Where can I drive? What Coast Guard number can I call to get my grandma rescued from her roof?'”
When his managing editor asked him to go to a local hospital to cover a potential evacuation, Kragie declined out of concern for his own safety. “For the first time in my journalism career, I had to say no — and I think that’s important,” he said. “In a disaster, journalists don’t need to put themselves at risk, or at serious risk, at least.”
Eventually, conditions improved, and Kragie rode his bike to the hospital through deep water. “It was like riding a stationary bike in a pool,” he said.
There, Kragie interviewed staff members who had been stranded at the hospital overnight, wrote content and took pictures to add color to the Chronicle’s coverage of the hospital’s status. “What ended up being most useful was I brought my camera, and I’m not a photographer but I was the only person there,” he said, adding that journalists often have to take on unfamiliar roles when covering a crisis.
For the next several days, Kragie worked 12-to-16-hour shifts as the Chronicle continually updated its coverage for readers. Hurricane Harvey temporarily reshaped the Chronicle’s role in the community, as readers relied on local news organizations for basic information. “People were turning to us not just for local government watchdogging and crime coverage and schools,” Kragie said. Rather, he found that readers wanted to know, “’What grocery stores are open? Where can I drive? What Coast Guard number can I call to get my grandma rescued from her roof?’”
Throughout the crisis, media organizations across the country expressed support for the Houston news outlets, sending care packages and messages of solidarity. “After the storm, there was pizza from a different newspaper every day, to the point at which it was like, ‘I’m never going to eat pizza again,’” Kragie said. “It was very kind.” When Hurricane Irma hit, the Chronicle reciprocated and sent aid to colleagues in Florida.
At the end of the discussion, Kragie encouraged prospective reporters to reach out to him to talk about how to get involved in professional journalism. Despite having been hired at a respected publication, he said he actually discovered his passion for journalism late in his college career. He assured them, “I’m still figuring it out, too.”