The Nashville Floods: a case for local news & citizen journalism

“I’m holding on for dear life down here!” a friend texted me the night of Saturday, May 1.

He lives in Nashville, where I lived for over 2 years before returning to the northwest.

He was sort of teasing, but his basement was flooding, and he said he’d never seen it rain so hard for such a long period of time.

And what was the result?

Unless you’ve been glued to, one of Nashville’s local news stations (among others), or the state newspaper’s website,, you probably have no clue that Middle Tennessee received 12-15 inches of rainfall in 24-48 hours (the exact numbers are hard to track down). You may not know that the Cumberland River crested at 53.5′ and plowed past its banks, flooding many areas of the state, including parts of downtown Nashville, neighborhoods in Belle Meade to the southwest, and even Opryland and The Grand Ole Opry to the northeast.

Wait, you didn’t know The Grand Ole Opry was flooded? 10′ of water, in fact.

While this is certainly not comparable to Hurricane Katrina, it is a significant natural disaster that has and will continue to impact one of America’s prominent cities with a local economy that’s heavily dependent on tourism. (Tenn. Gov. Phil Bredesen publicly estimated that the private sector has sustained $1 billion in damages – and that’s an early estimate.)

And many are asking, why hasn’t national media picked this up? Save Keith Olbermann’s acknowledgement that national media have altogether missed the story, most of the big names in cable media were M.I.A.

Between the tragic BP oil spill in Gulf (which does warrant national media attention), and a terrorist’s failed bomb attempt in NYC, national media missed the boat in covering Tennessee’s natural disaster.

Their presence, however, may not be needed.

Local outlets, namely The Tennessean, News Channel 5, and WKRN (Channel 2), have not only produced thorough reporting on the flooding, they’ve also provided channels for citizen journalists to upload their images, videos, and personal stories.

This culmination of citizen and professional reporting on local channels and through social media has painted quite a picture of how the flooding has impacted people’s lives, businesses, and institutions like The Grand Ole Opry. I would argue this 1-2 punch has done the job that no corporate reporter, which his freshly powdered brow and lightly blushed cheeks, could do.

As the water is receding back into the Cumberland and volunteers are stepping up to help with the cleanup, Anderson Cooper (after being contacted by Country Music/Pop Star Kenny Chesney), is reportedly heading down to Music City to report.

I think the case study has already developed though, and I believe it will showcase local media and citizen journalist as shining and very necessary stars.

Forget your ratings. Charge-up your Flips and upload your pics.

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Drake Cooper
Drake Cooper
May 8, 2010