In the online eye of Hurricane Ike

New frontiers in journalism: As a deadly storm surge threatens Galveston, the Houston Chronicle's "SciGuy" tells it like it is, in a real-time online chat

Published September 12, 2008 9:17PM (EDT)

How's this for journalist bravado? A live chat online during a hurricane.

Eric Berger, the "SciGuy" at the Houston Chronicle just concluded a virtuoso one-and-a-half hour live chat with Chron readers handling any and all questions about Hurricane Ike, which looks to be just about a few hours away from giving Galveston, Texas a disastrous pummeling.

Typically, journalists called upon to do online chats will play it safe and cautious, but Berger tells it like it is.

1:54 [Comment From Ryan]

So in your best opinion how bad is it going to be?

1:55 Eric Berger: For Galveston Island the situation is going to be very, very bad regardless of where Ike comes in. If it makes landfall along the west end it's going to be catastrophic for the island. Many people left behind will die and all buildings will be flooded.

[Comment From Heather]

Can anyone rescue the children from the fools who are staying on the island? I believe that's child endangerment.

2:01 Eric Berger: It surely is. Anyone staying behind on Galveston Island at this point is not right in the head.

2:20 [Comment From Bob]

I have a place on the West End, and I;m assuming the worst for the structure. Is there any chance that we will be unable to rebuild on the land there?

2:21 Eric Berger: You want my honest opinion? I think the recent spate of development on Galveston Island's west end is pretty much the practice of bad government. The island's right on the water and prone to strong storm surges. As for re-development, it's a free country so if the coastline isn't washed entirely away you'll probably be able to rebuild.

Berger also has a sense of humor, a command of the facts, and a calming authority to his online presence that the greater Houston metropolitan area clearly appreciates. And you gotta love his answer to the question: "What question would you like be asked?"

Eric Berger: Eric, this is the power company. We've been happy with your reporting, so if the power goes out at you're home we'll have a crew on standby. And if there's any damage we'll be happy to fix that too. Is that OK with you?

Seriously, it's a pretty smart use of the medium to slap a live chat on your front page with someone who knows what's going on in the middle of a major disaster. Kudos to the Houston Chronicle for pulling it off, and props to Eric "SciGuy" Berger. You are my hero.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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