A Storm Is No Time for Hot Dogs


I spent the week of Sept. 15 obsessing over Hurricane Isabel. I watched her track carefully and breathed a sigh of relief when it was clear that Boston (where I live) would be spared. I tuned into the Weather Channel religiously, watched 'progs' from the National Hurricane Center with great interest and the live shots from North Carolina to Maryland.

As a news executive, I know the importance of weather information. I'm not here to complain about excessive coverage. An approaching hurricane is not to be taken lightly, and it is our obligation to let people know its projected path and provide live and timely information. In fact, I am proud of the work our stations did along the East Coast.

But I am here to complain about what I consider irresponsible coverage by some meteorologists and reporters.

Take, for example, Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel, who seemed to jeopardize both his own life and that of his camera operator by wading to the ocean's edge during the height of the storm. Then, the Weather Channel replayed his brush with potential disaster multiple times. During those replays, Cantore apologized for his bad judgment. (Did someone at the Weather Channel read him the riot act?) His actions damaged a camera, according to his own on-air reports, but, more important, they sent the wrong message to all those people we warn to be careful during a storm. How many times have we heard the words "angry ocean" and "waves reaching 20 feet with dangerous riptides?"

Don't misunderstand me. I believe in live reporting. It is a critical part of our coverage during breaking news and severe weather. But I do not believe in putting our employees at risk or allowing them to put themselves in harm's way for the sake of a great shot.

Take, also, NBC's Brian Williams and Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Seidel. Both were blown over and could have been severely injured or killed. Does anyone really believe that having the successor to Tom Brokaw standing in a 70-mile-an-hour wind without protection is a good idea? Does that make him a better reporter?

By focusing so much attention on the blowing reporters, we lose sight of our real mission: to provide information. That includes more than the wind gust at a particular moment or a live interview with the mayor. It involves reporting and, in the case of meteorologists, providing scientific information that will help viewers make informed decisions that could save their lives.

We need to keep our viewers in our minds at all times and, as reporters, to remember these words when we're covering live events: It isn't all about me.