In New York, Sandy Still Dominating TV News
Once-in-a-generation story shows little sign of subsiding with week three approaching
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/16/2012 3:58:04 PM
Reports of floods, fires and frustratingly long power outages have given way to stories of recovery, of rip-off artists seeking to benefit from the aggrieved, and about how New York is prepared for the next Sandy-sort of storm.
"This story is almost as big as the first week," says David Friend, senior VP of news at CBS Television Stations. "Wherever you go, you still uncover incredible stories of people suffering terribly, or people's heroic relief efforts, and the politicians we are holding accountable. The storm was so vast and impacted so many people."
The cable news networks have the luxury of sticking with the massive story around the clock. Some 70% of the content on Long Island's News 12 the week of Nov. 12-16 was Sandy-related, say its managers -- it dropped sports reports for two full weeks -- and as much as 80-90% on its Cablevision counterpart in New Jersey. NY 1 News devotes the whole of its nightly 8 p.m. newscast to Sandy. "The show is entirely Sandy-related issues," says Steve Paulus, Time Warner Cable senior VP of news and local programming and NY1 News chief. "For as long as it takes, we are totally devoted to it."
The Sandy stories will continue for months as people rebuild their homes and devastated beachfront communities reestablish themselves as destinations in advance of the warm weather next year. Some 250,000 New Jersey residents registered for assistance from FEMA, says Randal Stanley, general manager and news director at News 12 New Jersey.
"I'm sure each one of them has a story," says Stanley. "That's a lot of stories."
Perhaps most vexing is how the New York market can prevent widespread wreckage from the next superstorm -- an angle-savvy news outlet will stay on for months and perhaps years. "There are a lot of questions to be asked about recovery and housing and when the lights get turned on again," says Susan Sullivan, vice president of news at WNBC, "along with why it happened and how to stop it happening again."
If there's any benefit from such deep and wide despair, it's that thousands of news gatherers picked up some real crisis experience in the past few weeks, and news stations learned to patch together newscasts and updates amidst severe logistical odds.
Some saw just how much people in the community rely on them. The management at News 12 on Long Island was surprised to see 15-20 tired, dirty and frustrated people, in the aftermath of the storm, banging on the facility door in Woodbury. "We need an advocate!" Pat Dolan, News 12 Networks president and news director at News 12 Long Island, said they told him.
"I can't remember anything like that happening before," notes Dolan.
A panel of New York news veterans was asked to put Sandy in historical perspective as a news story. The managers mentioned various blizzards and the TWA plane crash that killed 230 in 1996, but said Sandy easily beats them all in terms of a long-lasting, and far-reaching, news story. Sept. 11 may be the biggest story any of them cover in their careers, but Sandy may end up affecting more people.
"Certainly not to diminish 9/11, but the coverage of this is just so widespread," says Friend of CBS. "Wherever you go, there's another victim, another hero, another story. I haven't experienced anything like it."
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