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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Snow Job: Chris Christie’s Bad Crisis Response

Written by Brad Phillips on January 3, 2011 – 6:42 am

Hours before the first flakes of snow started to fall over his state last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie boarded a plane with his family to Disney World. It quickly became evident that the snow storm would be a major one, but Gov. Christie decided to remain in Orlando.

It was no problem. That’s what lieutenant governors are for. But it turns out his lieutenant was out of the country visiting her ailing father.

Even as three feet of snow blanketed parts of the state and media criticism intensified, Mr. Christie stubbornly refused to return to his state.

ChrisChristie

NJ Governor Chris Christie Remained in Disney World as Snow Hammered His State. Photo: Dept. of Justice

 

According to the Newark Star Ledger, Mr. Christie showed no remorse upon his return home:

“I wouldn’t change the decision even if I could do it right now,” Christie said. “I had a great five days with my children. I promised that.”

When it became clear that the storm was getting worse, Christie said his wife warned him to not “even think about” canceling the trip.

“I would have been doing the same thing here as I was there,” Christie said. “I would not have been out driving a plow.”

 

Mr. Christie is right on the facts – he probably was able to do most of his job over the phone. But he’s missing one critical point: none of that matters. In a crisis, facts alone don’t drive the storyline. Optics matter, and Gov. Christie’s inaction was a stunning act of political tone deafness. He should have learned from the litany of other recent high-profile optical disasters, such as when:

  • President Bush was photographed looking out from his plane over New Orleans days after Hurricane Katrina wiped out the city
  • President Obama and Vice President Biden were criticized for playing golf during the B.P. oil spill
  • BP CEO Tony Hayward was filmed attending a yacht race as tarballs rushed ashore in Florida

 

In a crisis, people want to see their leaders at the scene, even if their presence doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Good examples of leaders in crisis include:

  • Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s walking with an oxygen mask at Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of 9/11
  • President Bush visiting Ground Zero days after 9/11 and standing next to a rescue worker on a pile of rubble with a megaphone
  • President Clinton delivering a tone-perfect speech in Oklahoma City after the bombing of a federal building killed 168 people

 

To be sure, those crises were all more severe than a snowstorm. But the lessons learned from them remain equally as valid for smaller crises. One of those lessons is this: good leaders are visible during a crisis. In all three of the “bad” examples above, the leaders were AWOL; in all three “good” examples, they were present.

Gov. Christie would be wise to stop digging in his heels and apologize to his constituents. He should admit that although he tried to make the right decision for his family, his primary obligation during the massive snow storm was to the state. And he should promise voters that from now on, he will always remain in New Jersey during a crisis.

Related: The Right Way To Do a Crisis Press Conference: 2010′s Best

Related: Are Written Statements Enough In a Crisis?

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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