The three biggest American newspapers are once again touting their fundamental civic role. They lifted their paywalls for coverage of another emergency. Torrential rains have left a large part of southeast Texas in floodwaters following Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall over the weekend.
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post all temporarily waived the requirement to become a paid subscriber for unlimited access to articles about Harvey and the ongoing emergency response. The Houston Chronicle is also suspending its paywall for the storm and its aftermath.
The temporary paywall suspension gave readers access to a wide array of reporting, as well as dramatic photos and images, many showing Houston-area roads and buildings partially or largely submerged. It also chronicled dozens of instances of National Guard members and emergency responders rescuing people from trapped vehicles or the upper stories of houses isolated by floodwaters.
In addition to documenting damage and relief efforts, the newspapers are providing constant updates on weather conditions, emergency shelter locations, official advisories and safety instructions. The Wall Street Journal was retweeting live updates about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plans to release water from area dams.
As always during major events, the newspapers are inviting readers to share their own photos and videos of their experiences during and after the hurricane. They are also taking care not to encourage unsafe behavior in the pursuit of the perfect storm or flooding shot. The NYT stated: “While we appreciate seeing what it looks like in your area, please do not put yourself in harm’s way.”
The newspapers’ reporting on Hurricane Harvey has implications for readers’ daily lives far from the disaster. Another article in the WSJ noted that gasoline prices are rising — the storm took about 15% of the nation’s gasoline refining capacity temporarily offline.
The publications have previously suspended their paywalls during major events, including the 2016 presidential election, the terror attacks in Paris and Hurricane Sandy, which caused billions of dollars of damage across the U.S. Northeast.