Stations Improvise to Cover Massive Sandy
Everyone within the station, and beyond, can contribute to covering breaking story
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/29/2012 4:20:08 PM
That's what Craig Jahelka, vice president and general manager at WBOC in Salisbury, Md., did when the station needed someone to haul a camera around Monday morning, with Hurricane Sandy lurking off shore. "At times like this," he says, "everyone's got to pitch in."
Covering Irene last year is fresh on East Coast reporters' minds, but it's becoming clearer that Irene was a relative non-issue compared with the massive magnitude of Sandy. No less an expert than Weather Channel reporter Jim Cantore told B&C, "You could probably put two Irenes inside this thing, maybe two and a half. The size of this enormous."
Covering such a giant event presents a stiff challenge for station reporters. Within the CBS family, reporters, and equipment, from as far off as Minneapolis and Dallas headed east to pitch in with owned stations in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston. "It's probably the biggest storm we've experienced in more than a generation," said David Friend, senior VP of news at the CBS owned stations.
Stations are making the most of technological and social media advances -- at times with resources that were not available, or not as widely available, as recently as when Irene rolled up the coast. CBS' Mobile 2 Weather Lab is an SUV equipped with weather technology, including wind meters and rain gauges, to provide street level weather updates. "It brings viewers closer to the action," says Friend. "At the end of the day, that's what we're here for."
The technological ambitions in DMA No. 144 are more modest. WBOC is partnering with Clear Channel Radio and Delmarva Public Radio to simulcast its news on the radio. The TV screen features three crawls side by side by side: breaking news, school closings and closings of hospitals, businesses, etc. A new smartphone app will keep people connected when the power shuts down -- something the station did not offer during Irene.
"That's new for us," says Jahelka. "We hope it's a life saver."
Stations are asking viewers to pitch in with the reporting. WMDT Salisbury (Md.) has 25-30 "Weather Watchers" -- local weather aficionados around the market who contribute images and readings. When WNYW New York's crew heard about the wind-induced crane collapse in Manhattan Monday, vice president news director Dianne Doctor went to Facebook -- and promptly found a photo of the structure, posted by a friend who lives down the block from where the incident took place.
The role of social media in newsgathering has increased even since Irene, says Doctor. "It continues to explode," she says. "Everyone's a reporter. It makes our coverage better. The storm is so vast that it's the only effective way to cover this story."
In the nation's largest DMA around 3 p.m., the meteorologists were forecasting an earlier landfall than was initially thought -- Sandy perhaps hitting southern New Jersey by 5 p.m. The storm surge concept dominated coverage. "The coastal erosion could be enormous," said Lonnie Quinn, WCBS chief meteorologist. "I think our shoreline could be changed because of this storm."
WNYW reporter Matt Alvarez was in Long Branch, N.J., getting pummeled by wind and waves. "The major part of this thing has yet to strike," he said. "You just wonder what that will be like."
Newsroom denizens are prepping for a long night of covering the moving story. One weapon in the WBOC arsenal, a helicopter, will remain in its hangar until the thick of the storm passes through. At that point, the station will take to the skies to assess the damage. "As we get our first look at everything, we'll share that with viewers," said Jahelka. "Good, bad or indifferent, people want to see it."
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