Editorial: This Just In

Sandy plowed up the East Coast last week, leaving almost unimaginable
damage and a number of indelible TV images in its
wake: The crane boom in New York that snapped in high winds
and swung precariously 90 stories above the city, the Breezy Point,
Queens, conflagration that consumed more than 100 homes and
whose images captured on TV Mayor Michael Bloomberg said reminded
him of wildfires out West, which also burned themselves
into our memories thanks to TV images; the still photo of water
gushing around the door in a PATH train station; and the evacuation
of patients—some of them newborns—from a hospital without
either power or backup power among them.

The devastation from the storm was incredible
and in a sense unprecedented. What wasn’t unprecedented
was the commitment of the electronic
journalists who brought us those and other images,
ones that put a frightening, but human, face
on the storm. Without journalists willing, even eager,
to document those scenes, such tragedy could
be reduced to statistics or compartmentalized as
someone else’s problem, something terrible but

With broadcast and cable and satellite and online
journalists blanketing the storm 24/7, geography
proved no barrier to empathy and understanding.

To watch those houses consumed by fire, or
those neonatal unit babies hand-carried from the
powerless hospital, was to share in the pain and
pride that are always intertwined in terrible situations
that always manage to bring out the best in

Broadcasters fighting for respect in a town—
D.C.—with a laser focus on reclaiming spectrum
for broadband again demonstrated their commitment
to getting the story and getting crucial emergency
information out to the public. Stations in
Washington, Baltimore, New York and elsewhere
dropped regular programming to cover the storm
for hours, or in some cases a day or more. That
included putting themselves in harm’s way—rushing
waters, flying debris, the deadly combination
of water and live wires—to make the point that
Sandy was a more potentially devastating storm
than its barely-category 1 designation.

“I salute the remarkable work of our radio and
TV station colleagues now putting themselves in
harm’s way to keep millions of people safe and informed
on the devastation of this deadly storm,”
said NAB President Gordon Smith as the storm
prepared to make landfall last week.

Of course, it’s Smith’s job to highlight his members’
public service. But so did Baltimore Sun reporter
David Zurawik, who was sufficiently impressed
to publicly praise a news crew from WBAL
in particular, but also the role of news media in
storm coverage more broadly.

“I know in these snarky, all-you-need-is-irony,
postmodern times, lots of folks, including some
journalists who should know better, like to make
fun of TV reporters standing in high winds and
driving rain or snow to report on a storm. I could
not disagree more. I want someone out there on
the edge of the ocean and the tip of the storm bearing
witness to the power of nature—and reporting
on the danger the storm portends for the rest of us
back in our homes.”

That was a point CNN made as it received concerned
communications from viewers over its reporters
stand-ups in high winds and water.

Ali Velshi may have overtaken Anderson Cooper
as the latest iconic face of storm coverage, thanks
to his daylong stand-up in Atlantic City.

But while we are praising, we need to offer a
little constructive criticism. Most of the official
press conferences from governors and mayors
with updates included signing interpreters for the
hearing impaired, but in several cases the media
outlets confined their coverage to close-up shots
that excluded the signing. That defeats the purpose
and there should be a general policy that all such
shots be wide enough to include that translation.

We also encourage media outlets to continue to
focus on the story and not be too quick to chase
the next Kardashian or Lohan sighting. We are reminded
once again of how good TV can be, and
how proud we are of the people who do it with
incredible skill, and, in some cases, sacrifice.