Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hurricane Coverage: Networks Insufficient While Social Media Amateurs Are Timely and Accurate

TV Newser has a survey on its site asking how its audience, made up mainly of media professionals, feels about coverage of Hurricane Irene.

Here are the results:

Yes. The media coverage was over-the-top and only driven by a desire for ratings.
No. The media has a responsibility to prepare viewers for the worst.
Sort of. The amount of coverage was warranted, but the dramatic live shots and foreboding graphics were too much. 

I voted “sort of.”  I believe the amount of coverage was warranted and, judging by the number of people who have been flooded, lost power or had trees fall on their homes or cars, it was necessary to warn of the dangers.  The storm was huge and affected such a large part of the country so strongly that conveying information was an absolute necessity.

Further, the media was egged on in this case by public officials like New York City Mayor Bloomberg who was adamant about closing down the mass transit system and evacuating portions of the city.  Governor Christie of New Jersey acted likewise by closing the Garden State Parkway and ordering evacuations.  With that, the media was given license to go all out.

What was completely unnecessary was having reporters stationed on piers trying to hold their ground amidst the wind and flying sand.

Standing by the ocean proves nothing.  Any of us who have been to the beach know that when you’re next to the Atlantic, it’s windy.  That’s why we go to the beach.  The wind during a storm by the shore is by no means an indication of what’s happening a mile or more inland.

I saw a reporter (I can’t remember who) warning about flying objects.  When he picked up an item, he had to admit it was a piece of foam.  Folks, foam flies in the wind during an everyday thunderstorm.

I’m not saying the wind wasn’t fierce, but it was only bad at certain points for a couple of hours at a time.  With apologies to the families of the 44 people who lost their lives, this was not Armageddon.

Having watched a good deal of coverage on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and having listened to CNN, FOX and MSNBC throughout most of Sunday, I can say some networks were better than others.

Surprisingly, the Weather Channel, was not the best.  While this outlet is made for the type of disaster experienced, coverage was shoddy.  There wasn’t enough of an overview and there was too much concentration on one location or another at the expense of so many.  If you were looking for the big picture, the Weather Channel wasn’t the place to go, perhaps because they don’t have enough field reporters.

CNN and MSNBC (sister network of the Weather Channel which uses some of its feeds) were better.  While they did display maps with timelines and radar pictures, they also had people out there at various points and did an adequate “round robin.”  Still, they didn’t have enough people.  On MSNBC during the New York part of the storm, there was Mike Taibbi in Freeport, Peter Alexander at Battery Park in Manhattan and Al Roker on Long Beach.

No one was stationed on the North Shore, which was getting pounded, and no one was in the five boroughs or Connecticut.

And that’s where social media comes in.  I’ve heard it said and I agree that it was easier to get information about my hometown and my general area via Facebook and Twitter.  Individuals who were in those towns were giving minute-by-minute reports which proved to be accurate.  Some were posting pictures and a few posted video.

It may not be true that these amateurs had the resources of the professionals and they may not have the experience, but they were purveying news in the most timely manner and they were doing it without hype and embellishment.

I was skeptical, but I am now beginning to believe that we are seeing the future through the eye of Hurricane Irene and it does not look good for the major media outlets.  They will not be extinct, but unlike the storm, they will not be downplayed.

No comments:

Post a Comment