On Monday, Melissa Block and Robert Siegel were in Sichuan province in China when the 7.8 earthquake hit, getting ready to do an unrelated set of stories about China. Ms. Block was actually taping an interview as the earthquake hit, and Morning Edition on Monday played a recording of her reaction and continued reporting.
I grew up in California so I’m no stranger to earthquakes, and I certainly don’t freak out when the ground starts shaking. During Loma Prieta, I was walking down the stairs of my parent’s house carrying a toddler, and I just walked to the sidewalk and waited for the shaking to stop. We did earthquake drills where we’d stand in a doorway or under a desk (although strangely, we weren’t taught the “triangle of life” technique that C learned in elementary school – Wikipedia claims that this is a controversial theory but apparently it’s accepted by those wacky Canadians). Most importantly, we learned to consider ground shaking to be a normal event.
That said, if you were recording my reaction, there’s no way I’d sound like Ms. Block. Partway through her interview, you can hear a rumbling, and the first thing she says is, “what’s going on, the whole building is shaking”, and then, “oh my goodness, are we in an earthquake?”. These statements could sound completely panicked depending on the particular tone of voice, but Ms. Block managed to make it sound like she was merely curious. As she went on, she described birds flying, bricks falling off buildings, and even mentioned that the ground was “undulating under [her] feet”. Somehow I have a feeling that if I was in the middle of an earthquake, “undulating” would not be the word that would come to mind. Perhaps later, but not right then with a microphone in my face. Clearly that’s what separates the true professional journalists from us mere mortals.