My first time at the Fort Lauderdale beach was not to savour its waves lashing at fun-seeking Floridian ladies dressed in bikinis, or tourists enjoying the warmth of the sun caress their bodies. It was to cover a protest marking the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
It was an assignment I looked forward to. The international coverage of the 2010 oil spill, the disaster that followed, and all the hoopla over compensations to be paid by BP, gave me this feeling of contributing to an international event. It made me feel truly as an international journalist.
I had got the assignment through David Fleshler, the environment reporter. Actually, we were meant to go together, such that I would “shadow” him. But a day to the event, he told me he was slated for some other office duties, and asked if I would take it up alone.
I was so glad to accept the offer.
“What would a protest at the beach look like?” “Would there be police officers armed to the teeth wielding batons and shoving protesters, like we would have back in Nigeria?” An hour before the protest organised by the environmental group, Oceana, was scheduled to begin, I was already on the road, driving down to the beach. It was a straight road from the Sun-Sentinel office to the beach, along the long stretch of E Las Olas Blvd.
My first concern, really, was to get a place to park my car. I didn’t want to be a victim of a towed car. Traffic rules in Fort Lauderdale must be obeyed, and breaking them, never curries any mercies. You would be required to pay as much as $250. As I drove down, I kept looking out for the “P” - park signpost. I missed a couple, basically because I had driven past them before seeing them. I was overly cautious of not breaking traffic rules like speed limits – it’s a foreign land.
Eventually, I navigated my way to a park, but was already a distance away from the venue of the protest. I had no coins on me, so I had to use my debit card to pay for the parking space, but didn’t know how to go about it. The system was quite strange to me. But for the help of one of the cab riders around, I don’t know what I would have done. An hour went for a dollar, and of course, in America, you pay tax on virtually everything.
The protest was going to be only for about an hour. But, to be on the safe side, I decided to pay for the space for the next three hours, putting into consideration the distance I would have to walk to and from the protest ground. The protest had just begun when I got there. The atmosphere was very civil. There were no police officers.
I spoke with Katie Parrish, organizer of the protest, and a couple of the protesters, having at the back of my mind some of the lessons learnt during the class with Jonathan Friendly and Randall Smith – speak with as many people as possible. Introducing myself as a journalist from the Sun-Sentinel also helped. It seemed everyone wanted to find his or her name in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper and website. Sitting beside Russell Small, the assistant section editor of the city news desk was quite refreshing. He assisted in tightening up the story from about 558 words to 459. The story was good to go on the Sun-Sentinel website and newspaper, which it did.
The feeling of reporting an international issue that was related to the BP oil spill was quite gratifying. Perhaps, more gratifying was the thumbs-up from Fleshler.
“That was a great job,” he said. “I’ve got a couple of more story ideas for you.”
Adeoye, TELL’s assistant online editor is currently an Afred Friendly fellow at the Sun Sentinel newspapers, Fort Lauderdale, United States.