Gusts of wind topping 100 miles per hour, 20 foot storm surge, hazardous airborne debris; you couldn’t ask for a more hazardous work environment. Who would be crazy enough to voluntarily brave the elements?
I’ve always thought it irresponsible and somewhat sensationalist for TV journalists to stand out in the middle of a hurricane, all for a 50 second live shot. I’m not writing this post because I felt I was put in harm’s way. In fact, my managers have done everything possible to ensure we keep personal safety at the forefront of everything we do. It certainly makes for compelling live television, but what journalistic value does standing in a storm provide?
I would agree that it is important to help provide a perspective on what conditions are like in places that people are being affected. Someone can tell you the winds are 120 miles per hour, but what kind of damage does that actually bring? It is relevant to show you the thrashing that mother nature brings with a Hurricane. People may find comfort in knowing that a news crew is stationed in the storm’s path. That one crew may be the only source of information about what is happening in a viewer’s hometown. I don’t disagree with sending reporters to stand in a Hurricane, but I am frustrated when journalists fail to respect the storm. These reporters need to recognize when their own safety is compromised and keep from becoming storm victims themselves. Too many times you find reporters standing out in the wind, narrowly escaping becoming impaled by flying storm debris. I’d have to ask myself, “What significant information am I delivering?” It’s only a matter of time before we lose a dedicated journalist to an unnecessary live shot.
Knowing the general path of Hurricane Ike, my news director decided to station me in East Texas in the city of Marshall. At 4:30 AM on Saturday, September 14, my photographer Art Nerio and I set out for our assignment. The previous night I did a live shot at the Marshall Civic Center, one of eight shelters in Harrison County that was housing evacuees from Orange County, Texas. We were returning to our satellite truck where operator Jeff was waiting. We knew the day would consist of a lot of sitting and waiting. Art began setting up his shot after we arrived and I checked in with shelter staff to see if anything had developed overnight. Our Saturday morning newscast would be 2 hours of commercial-free coverage. I was scheduled for at least two or three live reports on conditions ahead of the storm. Throughout the day we were live via satellite from Marshall, giving updates on weather conditions and reports on the evacuees inside the shelter. We spent the afternoon grabbing video of the damage after the storm began to move through our area. Tree had fallen on homes, ripped down power lines, and knocked out power. Most of the city was without power when I did my final live shot at 6 PM.
This particular live shot was definitely the most impressive. Winds were gusting up to 60 miles per hour at my estimation, and the rain was really beating down on us. The rain was so intense, we were afraid the satellite truck’s uplink might have trouble cutting through the storm. Art positioned his camera under the lift gate of our news unit, which was parked next to the huge satellite truck. This helped keep our equipment from getting completely soaked. The rain was flying directly into my face, so it was hard to open my eyes and keep from making a squinty face. I was able to report on the current conditions in East Texas and give out some phone numbers to viewers who may have problems related to the storm. Art and I had an interesting time being in the elements, but we agreed to keep it safe at all times. The car ride back to the station was tiring, but we were able to laugh at how ridiculously wet we were. At that point, couldn’t have been more glad that I invested in a good pair of waterproof shoes and a raincoat. I think we did our job by showing people what was happening in East Texas, but we knew our boundaries and respected the unpredictability of the weather.