August 31, 2023

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Press freedom


Natural disaster coverage: CBS News correspondent offers safety and reporting tips

When a severe storm like Hurricane Idalia occurs, journalists rush in to cover the impact on communities. This work is sensitive because of the immediate dangers and the long-term recovery process.

CBS news correspondent Omar Villafranca spoke with the Institute about ways reporters can minimize harm and support communities while developing important relationships for follow-up coverage.

CBS news correspondent Omar Villafranca

What are your top three tips to keep yourself safe when on the ground covering a natural disaster like Idalia?


Villafranca: “Safety first” is the motto for the team. Know the local hazards based on the disaster situation you’re covering, not just the physical ones caused by the disaster. That means if you’re covering a hurricane in the Gulf states, be aware of alligators, snakes, and insects in the water you’re walking through!


Communication is key. Point out things that could be a problem to you or the crew. If you’re talking and watching each other’s backs, it's easier to work through potential problems.


Take a break if you need it. Covering disasters can be exhausting, both physically and mentally. It’s OK to give yourself a break. Sleep is rare, so take a nap if you need it to recharge and stay alert. And if you come across emotionally tough situations, it’s OK to talk it out.


What is your favorite resource for staying on top of storm news?

Villafranca: I’m a big fan of RadarScope when it comes to tracking weather. The app is fantastic and lets me see storms and weather data. The folks at the National Weather Service are also amazing and helpful.


How do you connect with residents when the power and cell service go out?

Villafranca: If we’re shooting a story in a disaster area, I’ll ask residents if they need water (which we always carry) or if they need to charge their phone in our car or with our gear. It’s a simple gesture, but for them it may be an important way to help stay connected to friends and loved ones. It's useful and it opens up the lines of communication.


What is your strategy for follow-up coverage?

Villafranca: I always ask for their phone number and then give them my phone number. I tell residents that we reporters can’t see everything after a storm. But if something is happening that doesn’t seem right, if bureaucratic red tape is slowing recovery—or if cleanup is running like a well-oiled machine—I tell them to please let me know and don’t hesitate to call/text. I remind them that it’s our job as journalists to report on these kinds of stories, and we can be a voice for them.


"Job searching, job hunting, or even applying for something and going through interviews, it’s a really, really trying process. ... At the time you’re doing this, you also want to find what brings you joy, making sure you feel you are filling your bucket instead of every single day just emptying it. For myself, I do a lot of volunteer work, and that actually helps me to feel like I am fulfilling my social responsibility. While I am doing the really hard work in journalism, that definitely helps me to connect with my community and make sure that I don’t feel like every single day when I finish the day I’m just gonna burn out another day.”

-- Jin Ding, chief of staff and operations at the Center for Public Integrity, “How to handle the unexpected in your media career


NBC News’ Kristen Welker to accept 2023 National Press Club Fourth Estate Award

2023 Fourth Estate Award Gala honoring Kristen Welker of NBC News: Join us on Nov. 28

Kristen Welker, NBC News chief White House correspondent and incoming moderator of “Meet the Press,” will receive the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award during a gala in her honor on Nov. 28 in Washington, D.C. The award recognizes journalists who have made significant contributions to the field and is the Club’s most esteemed prize.

Welker, who on Saturday appeared on her final broadcast as co-anchor of “Weekend TODAY”, is known for her political reporting, which has appeared across all NBC News and MSNBC platforms, including “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt,” “TODAY,” “Meet the Press,” and She will be the second woman and the first Black journalist to moderate “Meet the Press.”

This year’s Fourth Estate gala will also commemorate a Club milestone: The Fourth Estate Award is now in its 50th year. The gala will begin with a reception at 6 p.m. ET followed by dinner and the awards program starting at 7 p.m. at the National Press Club.

Tickets for the gala are $175 for National Press Club members, and $350 for members of the public.


The gala is a fundraiser for the Club’s nonprofit affiliate, the National Press Club Journalism Institute. The Institute provides training that equips journalists with skills and standards to inform the public, advocates for press freedom, provides career support for journalists, and provides scholarships to aspiring journalists.

For information on sponsorship opportunities, please click here or email Beth Francesco, executive director of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, at


This newsletter is written & edited by the National Press Club Journalism Institute staff: Beth Francesco and Holly Butcher Grant. Send us your questions and suggestions for topics to cover.

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The National Press Club Journalism Institute promotes an engaged global citizenry through an independent and free press, and equips journalists with skills and standards to inform the public in ways that inspire a more representative democracy. As the non-profit affiliate of the National Press Club, the Institute powers journalism in the public interest.