When I turned on CNN yesterday to check what was happening with Hurricane Sandy, I could barely believe my eyes: there was CNN’s chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, standing outside in Atlantic City, being absolutely battered by the storm. And there he stood for HOURS, as anchors kept returning to him for updates. “Stood” is maybe a generous term for it, actually — he was leaning precariously, buffeted by blasts of wind and surges of water, looking for all the world as though he was moments from being swept into the air.
Reporter Ashleigh Banfield was in a similar state, shouting above dangerous gusts in Battery Park. Elsewhere, news anchors stood waist-deep in water and clung to trees in an attempt to continue reporting on the increasingly deadly weather conditions.
The irony of it all was that half the time these very same reporters were lambasting citizens for failing to stay inside as instructed. HELLO?
Reporters staggering around in inclement weather is nothing new, of course — it keeps people watching, and if a network is REALLY lucky, they’ll capture a viral moment. After all, who can forget Al Roker getting blown off his feet during a 2005 report on Hurricane Wilma?
So hilarious! Except, you know, it’s actually just really stupid and puts people in harm’s way
Footage of some hapless anchor being forced to stand outside in the exact same weather everyone else is being warned about is not only pointless from a news standpoint (come on, there’s nothing we could have learned from watching Ali Velshi trying to stay on his feet in Atlantic City that he couldn’t have communicated from inside a building), it sends a seriously mixed message to those who are watching: “Hey, this is insanely dangerous! Don’t come outside like us! Even though we are in fact outside right now!”
It’s also ridiculous to focus so much on man-on-the-street footage instead of talking about what’s actually going on to mitigate the disaster happening before our eyes. There were so many people working to help others yesterday, why not highlight those stories instead of showing 5 straight hours of correspondents standing in floodwaters?
According to the senior vice president of live programming for the Weather Channel, the reason is that it’s the best way to communicate the news:
The power of mother nature is best felt through pictures. We’re in the business of conveying that drama.
An associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism says otherwise, though. It’s less about showing real news, and more about getting the most dramatic visuals when competing news outlets try to best each other when covering the same event:
Is it ratings driven? Sure (…) Where it crosses the line … if people laugh at you or fear for your life, you’re distracting from the story.
That’s exactly how I felt about the reporters I saw yesterday. Instead of getting a deeper understanding of the power of Hurricane Sandy, I found their antics hugely distracting from the real issues of people who were in legitimate, non-television-stunt danger. As one of the folks I follow on Twitter put it:
What did you think of the reporters standing out in Hurricane Sandy? Do you think that’s an acceptable way to report on a deadly weather event?
Image via YouTube