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News Front Page Cafe: Surviving the hurricanes

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UD alum shares U.S. territory's struggle for aid & recognition
Peter Bailey at the Deer Park Tavern.

​Peter Bailey talks with audience members at the Front Page Cafe at the Deer Park Tavern. Earlier in the day, he screened his film, "The Unbreakable Virgin Islanders." / Photo by Katherine Nails

By Katherine Nails
Journalism Program writer

Growing up a U.S. Virgin Islander, according to UD alum Peter Bailey, is to grow up with a sometimes hazy dual identity.

“We’re in the Caribbean geographically, but we are politically American,” he said. “Picture this: Our Caribbean neighbors look at us like ‘Are you Caribbean or are you American? What are you?’"

But if he tells an American where he's from, Bailey said, the response is "You’re from where? What’s that? What’s the Virgin Islands?”

But Bailey also believes that a combination of American enterprise and Caribbean ideals, which value the Earth and community, gives the island a unique strength.

“The beauty of that, I think, is it’s a hybrid of everything,” he said. “Because we’re American, we’re an innovative place, but we’re also culturally Caribbean, so we have those traditional values.”

Bailey, the founder and CEO of Nitecap Media, held a special screening of his new documentary “Paradise Discovered: The Unbreakable Virgin Islanders” on Nov. 13 as a part of the Front Page Cafe speaker series.

The documentary chronicled the recovery of St. Thomas, where Bailey grew up, after being slammed by two Category 5 hurricanes - first Irma, then Maria - within two weeks in 2017. According to Bailey, the mainland’s complacency towards its Caribbean countrymen can hurt the islands’ ability to prepare for storms.

“When these hurricanes are coming, we don’t get enough press unless it’s about to hit Florida - the mainland - so basically we’re hearing a Cat 5 two days before it’s about to hit. Now it’s on the path to Florida, so that’s what matters.”

Peter Bailey in news coverage after Hurricane Irma.

​Peter Bailey in news coverage by a Miami TV station after Hurricane Irma struck St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, a U.S. territory.

When Irma hit at the beginning of September 2017, it flattened the islands.

“It was like an atomic bomb had just dropped,” Bailey said.

Then, 13  days later, while many in Bailey’s community were still living under makeshift tarp roofs, the island was hit by Maria, another Category 5 storm. When it arrived, he said, crashes and screams could be heard for the entirety of the 16 hours the hurricane hovered over the island.

But as much as the documentary was about the hurricanes, it was also about Bailey, his identity as a Virgin Islander and the community where he grew up. Sitting on a neighbor’s porch,  he and a friend discussed the aftermath and rebuilding. Outside the house he grew up in, Bailey and his brother talked about saving their wheelchair-bound father when the storm tore the roof off.

After the screening, Bailey led a discussion at the Deer Park Tavern,  where he responded to questions about living in a U.S. territory, surviving the hurricane and the aftermath. He criticized the mainland’s response, saying that politicians and the media alike used the disaster to further their own agendas.

As a former writer for Time magazine, Newsweek and the Miami Herald, Bailey spoke to young journalists at the event about avoiding using tragedy for their benefit, and finding and telling stories that the rest of the world is ignoring.

He advised journalism students that instead of approaching a situation with a story in mind, they should spend time in the communities they cover and allow residents to tell their stories.

Most importantly, Bailey said, journalists today should try to fight the rush to pander to audiences by focusing on stories they love and believe in. If written authentically, he explained, there will be readership for any article written “from the heart.”

Story published on 11/13/2018 ; last modified on
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​Journalist Peter Bailey filmed the struggles of the Virgin Islands, a U.S. territory, to get aid and recognition after two hurricanes hit the islands where he grew up.

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Front Page Cafe: Surviving the hurricanes
  • The Journalism Program
  • 221 Memorial Hall
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • 302-831-4921