Nathan Arneal was in a unique position during mid-March flooding in North Bend.
Arneal is the owner, publisher and editor of the North Bend Eagle newspaper.
After a levee breached west of the city and the town was flooded, Arneal began giving updates on Twitter and live video updates via Facebook.
Instead of the regular 12-page weekly newspaper, the next edition would jump to 16 pages due to the flood coverage.
Arneal also was appointed to serve as the town’s public information officer, which he said was due to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stipulation.
Recently, Brandon McDermott interviewed Arneal about his experiences.
McDermott is the host of a show called, “Morning Edition,” which airs statewide on NET Radio.
The interview is scheduled to air at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. and 4:45 and 6:45 p.m. June 20. Local listeners should be able to tune in and hear the interview online at: http://netnebraska.org/radio-stream or on FM 91.1 radio.
In his broadcast, McDermott focuses on how small Nebraska newsrooms became part of the story themselves and how they helped their communities stay informed of what was happening.
“I interviewed Nathan, because he was a ‘one-man band’ covering the flood, the evacuees and communities affected,” McDermott said.
Arneal is quick to say he wasn’t a one-man band when it came to publishing the newspaper. He has two part-time employees.
“There’s three of us that work on that,” he said.
Arneal did share details of what took place during the interview.
“I talked for a long time, that’s for sure,” Arneal said. “He asked me to tell him what happened. I kind of walked him through the entire three or four days surrounding the flood.”
The newspaper comes out once a week, but Arneal immediately began giving updates on Twitter about where the water was as it approached and entered the town street by street.
That afternoon (March 15), Arneal began providing live Facebook video updates. He provided about two of those a day for a week and one a day for a week thereafter.
“All in all, I did at least one a day for 12 days,” he said.
During the radio broadcast, Arneal tells McDermott about the duty he felt as a newsman:
“In a town where there’s no TV station, there’s no radio station, if you can’t depend on your local newspaperman for accurate information, what good am I?”
Arneal also shares what North Bend residents told him about his flood coverage:
“People said, ‘We knew we could always depend on the Eagle for accurate information. We knew whatever you said was dead on.’”
During the radio interview, McDermott said Arneal talks about countless families who opened their homes to strangers.
Arneal also tells about members of the volunteer fire department walking into a public meeting in a gym and receiving a standing ovation from the public.
“A lot of the volunteer fire personnel who had been up for days, hadn’t had much of a break at all, kind of broke down in tears. That was quite an emotional situation,” Arneal said.
Besides covering the flood for the newspaper, Arneal also was asked if it was OK if he was appointed as the public information officer.
Arneal figured that wasn’t a big deal, because he already was disseminating information to the public.
But part of being the public information officer involved other responsibilities. When congressmen, senators and other news media came to town, Arneal showed them around and answered their questions.
“It was a good job for me, because I was on the ground floor,” Arneal said. “I was attending our flood recovery committee meetings so I kind of knew everything that was going on. And if I took care of that stuff, it wasn’t pulling people away from more important jobs.”
After spending 15 minutes showing someone around, Arneal would spend another two hours trying to catch up to all the texts and other messages he was getting from other people.
McDermott speaks highly of Arneal.
“I was impressed by Nathan’s deep love of North Bend and the people there,” McDermott said via email. “He reminds us (journalists) that our job is to inform listeners and readers and keep them safe during tragedy and destructive disasters.”
McDermott also speaks well of North Bend.
“The people of North Bend, northeastern Nebraska, and all of the Cornhusker state have a deep understanding of what community is,” McDermott said. “They care for their neighbors and showed they’ll do whatever it takes to give a helping hand in times of need. Nebraska Nice really showed itself in our darkest hour — when nature stacked the deck — we responded by coming together with a helpful, selfless spirit.”
Arneal said he hopes listeners get a sense of what people in North Bend experienced.
“That’s why you tell stories — to give an idea of what life is like other places — and this is something, we certainly hope, is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Arneal said.
He speaks humbly about the people in his hometown.
“Like anybody in an emergency situation or traumatic situation like that, people step up and pitch in and people do what they can to help their neighbor out,” Arneal said. “That’s not a North Bend exclusive thing. That’s just people everywhere. I think what makes our story a little more interesting is our circumstances might have been a little more unique and widespread – affecting literally everybody in town.”