Are Reporters In Hurricanes Heroic Or Stupid?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 28, 2012 – 2:04 PM

As yet another hurricane makes its way to America’s shores, America’s reporters have once again planted themselves right in middle of the storm.

And that begs the question: Is it stupid for reporters to do live shots while standing in middle of a hurricane?

If you’ve been watching Hurricane Sandy coverage, you’ve likely seen a few reporters standing in a stormy area “braving” increasingly strong winds and surging waves.

So are they doing a public service, or is it an arrogant conceit that unnecessarily risks the safety of reporters and their crews?

Chris Lawrence of CNN during Hurricane Irene. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, appearing on CNN, told Wolf Blitzer, ‘Tell Chris to get the hell out of that water.’

When I posed this question on my Facebook page during Hurricane Irene, one commenter asked: “…do you stay out of a war zone or a protest that could turn ugly, too?”

She’s right that reporters have to occasionally risk danger to get the story. But I’d argue that this dangerous journalistic hurricane chasing is less about news value and more about showmanship. Dramatic images fuel higher ratings, and daring reporters receive professional kudos for their “bravery.” Getting blown down by heavy winds, drenched by angry waves, or struck by flying debris has become a de rigueur rite of passage for weather reporters.

Plus, are they really protecting the public by showing them just how dangerous the storm is in person? Doesn’t it stand to reason that viewers might think, “Well, if it’s safe enough for that guy to stand out there…”

What do you think? Are reporters in hurricanes:

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Just how dangerous is this type of coverage? In this video, Julie Martin of The Weather Channel slams into an SUV after being hit by a wind gust during 2008’s Hurricane Dolly:

And in this one, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough risks being hit by flying debris during 2004’s Hurricane Jeanne:

When Dan Rather became the first reporter to cover a live hurricane in 1961, it made sense to broadcast from the storm’s center. The public hadn’t seen that shot before, it broke new journalistic ground, and it added to the story. But five decades of these shots have diminished both their impact and their news value.

News organizations will inevitably continue this dangerous practice until the moment a reporter gets seriously injured or killed – at which point they’ll predictably dial it back. In an era when live cams can tell the story well enough during the actual storm, it’ll be a preventable and largely pointless tragedy.

Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally ran during Hurricane Irene on August 28. 2011.

What do you think? Is this type of weather reporting brave and necessary or just plain reckless? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Comments (6)

  1. By JC Kreidel:

    Your FB commenter does have a point, sure, but plunking yourself in the winds of a hurricane is just stupid. One might argue that journalists put themselves in danger covering a war zone or protest to bring the the gravity of a situation into context. Seeing a reporter in the thick of it has moved the public to cry out against social injustice. I’m not sure what the equivalent is with a hurricane, what action is the viewing public supposed to take, you know, besides staying inside, something reporters are clearly not doing themselves. Do we need a Million Homeowner March against wind or a referendum on how much rain a hurricane may transport across international trade routes?

  2. By William Smith:

    Rob Marciano of CNN. Standing just above the storm surge on a walkway. Other CNN reporters standing in calf deep water on a pier. All the while the CNN spokesperson is talking about people not heeding the warnings and being in those same places. There is, of course no acknowledgement that those people are there in order to see the storm in action as displayed on television by CNN. This is at best a double message. It is certainly unprofessional and irresponsible behavior. This is clear proof that CNN is not a news organization, it is an entertainment organization.

  3. By Brad Phillips:


    I wish I could say I disagree with you, but I can’t. I received an email from a former colleague, a correspondent at one of the news networks. He asked me not to identify him (since he’s still a working reporter), but here’s what he wrote:

    “As far as the wet reporter shtick, it’s a hollow pose, a cliche I’d be (and have been) embarrassed to perform — because it is such a useless and hackneyed exercise.”

    Seems that even reporters themselves agree with you. Thank you for visiting the blog and commenting.


  4. By Dave Nagle:

    It’s a case of stupid human tricks by reporters for the sake of dramatic optics and ratings.

  5. By sue:

    Notice how it’s often young reporters (and often women, it appears) doing the honors — eager, hungry and still believing they are immune to life’s dangers. TV takes advantage of them, putting them and their fledgling careers at risk. It’s painful to watch, on several levels.

  6. By Kristin Winn:

    It’s become such a cliche (TV reporter standing in the wind and waves) that it has lost its impact. It’s all fun and games until someone is seriously injured or killed. And it sends the message that it’s OK to be out in these storms, which then puts emergency responders at risk trying to save these people from their own stupid human tricks.

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