The media today: Out in the storm

Journalists were out in full force as Hurricane Irma reached Florida this weekend. Quite literally. In Naples, NBC’s Kerry Sanders kneeled on the ground to avoid being knocked over by the storm’s fierce winds. The Weather Channel’s Mike Seidel stood in the flooded streets of Miami, while his colleague, photojournalist Chris Erikson, slipped and fell during a live shot amid worsening conditions. On CNN, intense horizontal rains pummelled John Berman and Bill Weir on camera, and Chris Cuomo endured 130 mph winds in the eye of the storm. So many others put themselves in similar situations.

As Irma barrelled through Florida, the debate over this type of TV storm reporting intensified, as Sopan Deb wrote in The New York Times. On social media, journalists and non-journalists alike expressed their concerns for the safety of those out in the storm—not just the reporters and anchors, but the producers, videographers, the whole crew. NPR’s David Folkenflik tweeted: “I know Dan Rather pioneered this televised hurricane insanity but TV reporters shouldn’t linger outside simply to show power of storms.” The New York Times’s national editor Marc Lacey wrote: “My msg to @nytimes reporters in Florida: do not risk your lives by standing out in the middle of the storm like some of your TV colleagues.”

Non-journalists questioned the decision-making process behind putting reporters out in the storm. One viewer tweeted: “Why does media think they must be outside for us to see how bad it is?” Others lamented that the footage wasn’t worth it, or that it was setting a dangerous precedent for viewers. From their viewpoint, there’s a disconnect between what journalists are saying and what they are doing, telling viewers it’s unsafe to go outside when they themselves are…outside.

There’s power in extensive hurricane coverage. Dan Rather proved that when he became one of the first, if not the first, to do it in 1961 with Hurricane Carla. But as Deb writes in the Times, the news value of these dangerous stand-ups “is increasingly being questioned, particularly with the rise of social media.” Sure, it’s gripping to watch. Plus, strong visuals may persuade residents to take the threat more seriously. But does that mean the reporter needs to be in the thick of it? After watching the Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes almost get blown away, the answer might increasingly be “no.” More on this weekend’s Irma coverage below.

 

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Meg Dalton is a CJR Delacorte Fellow. Find her on Twitter @megdalts.