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By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor
What happens when a devastating flood comes to a place that probably qualifies as a news desert? How do the residents get essential information?
In the case of Transylvania County, in the mountains of southwestern North Carolina, it’s the residents themselves who bridge the gaps — sharing news in informal networks, on social media and in human contact. It’s a process that illustrates the incredible power of community engagement, but can include some of the perils of sharing information outside the rigors of professional reporting.
When Tropical Storm Fred rolled through the mountains last Monday and Tuesday, media from outside Transylvania County, including WLOS television in Asheville, covered some of the disruptions there. But by Wednesday, most of them had moved on to places such as Haywood County, where the toll at last report was five dead and one person missing.
But while no one died in Transylvania, the flooding there was severe. The Transylvania Times in Brevard, the county’s only newspaper, which publishes print editions on Monday evenings and Thursday mornings, reported on the storm on its website, but its staff is small — one editor and three full-time reporters.
“So the TV station sees us as a niche,” Kevin Smith, PIO of the Transylvania County Schools since 2014, told me Sunday. “The radio station (he referred to WSQL in Brevard) is under-resourced. The newspaper comes out twice a week … they’re looking to modernize and smooth out the path to getting good information out sooner, whether it’s through a mobile app or through more daily use of social media, but frankly, they don’t have the resources to be the go-to news source.
“There’s no better way to put it: People have had to step in and fill the gap.”