Weathering a Blizzard of News Media Bravado

by WALTER BRASCH

Ginger Zee is an ABC News weather person. She’s 32 years old, has a B.S. in meteorology, and says even in high school she wanted to be a TV network weatherperson. Not a scientist in a lab studying and analyzing weather, but a TV weather person. For more than a decade, she worked local and regional markets, mostly in Michigan and Chicago.

Her other qualifications are that she is photogenic, has a somewhat bubbly personality, wears a size 4 dress, weighs 125 pounds, and was her high school homecoming queen. If she wasn’t on TV, she says she’d have loved to be a bartender.

It’s entirely possible she’s competent. But, it’s also possible that TV execs bypassed thousands of other competent meteorologists to find someone who knows weather-and looks good on camera. For meeting those qualifications, ABC-TV gives her significant air time. She is the weather person for the weekend editions of “Good Morning America.” If there’s a snow storm, blizzard, or heavy rain, you can see her-or any of a few dozen other TV personalities-male and female-on air, under an umbrella or in a parka, trying not to freeze any of their six-figure salary assets. It’s a good visual, as they say in TV.

It’s also bad journalism.

There is absolutely no need to put someone onto a deserted street with a hill of snow and wind to tell us there is a hill of snow and wind, and to stay off the roads.

First, it’s just not the weather person who may be in danger. On local news, there’s usually an all-purpose staff person who combines driving the SUV or van with responsibilities as a sound and video technician and who endures the same conditions as the weather person. On network TV, there may be a mini-crew of four others to get the picture on air. We don’t see them, and none make anywhere close to the salaries of the on-air talent. But they’re the ones driving, setting up the equipment, coordinating with the studio, and making sure the live performance during a blizzard appears to be not only as dangerous as it looks, but that the weather person also looks good.

Second, technology has given us the ability to station remote cameras. The weather person could stay indoors, among computers, telephones, charts, and maps and tell us the same thing-without being the only ones dumb enough to be blown into a snow bank.

We understand why local news gives us this visual, and leads off almost every non-prime time newscast with a weather report and usually erroneous predictions. But, now network TV not only gives us the same thing, it also leads off the evening news with same information we get from local news. Last weekend, Ginger Zee and weather people from the news networks were bundled up somewhere in New England, facing the cameras and wind gusts of 75 miles per hour. Some weather people were in Times Square showing us that the “crossroads of the world” was pedestrian free because of the blizzard. They had the easier job-there was less snow, less wind, and Times Square was a limousine ride from the network studios.

Newspapers aren’t immune from the “bravado syndrome.” Editors sitting in windowless offices have no hesitation in sending out eager photographers, salivating at getting that one great weather shot, even if it’s of their company car being stuck in a snow bank after sliding off an icy road.

To “humanize” the story-high-paid news consultants like to throw around the concept of “humanizing a story”-some of the reporters had to find people stuck in the snow. There were many to choose from. But, the questions asked were along the lines of, “So, how did you get into this situation?” “How do you feel about this storm?” and “What do you plan to do?”

There wasn’t much reporting in New Jersey. The “Garden State” was snowed under, but didn’t get hit as bad as New England, which saw two feet of snow and 75 miles an hours wind gusts. But, there were stories there, which didn’t receive heavy coverage and didn’t threaten the news crews’ physical safety. New Jersey has begun to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Could someone have checked to see what the blizzard did to the people and their properties in those shore areas that were once flooded, and now snowed-in and likely to endure even more water damage if temperatures increased and the snow melted before it could be shoveled and trucked from residential and commercial areas?

Getting “the story” is good journalism. Risking your safety and health, and possibly putting others at risk for a weather story, isn’t.

[Walter Brasch has been a journalist more than three decades. He acknowledges while much younger, he thought nothing about rushing into danger. Now that he’s matured, he looks back and thinks that some of his bravado was just plain dumb. Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth analysis of the health and environmental problems associated with natural gas drilling, and an investigation of the relationship between the energy industry and politicians. It’s available through amazon.com or www.greeleyandstone.com, and local bookstores.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Toomey Votes Against Sandy Relief

Sen. Pat Toomey screwed his own constituents by voting against Hurricane Sandy Relief.  The Lehigh Valley, where he lives, was hit hard by the superstorm.  Allentown and Bethlehem were hit by 70 mph winds during the storm.  Our neighbors in New Jersey and New York were devastated.  What does it say about Pennsylvania when we abandon our neighbors in their time of need?

It’s bad enough Toomey doesn’t believe in science and is part of the problem regarding climate change but at some point he has to be accountable for the damage those beliefs create.  This vote was obnoxious.

Sandy: The Departure

Our dear friend Sandy departed yesterday leaving us without internet service all day.  Our lights flickered for a second Monday evening but we never lost power.  We have some small branches down and some plant debris all over the pool cover but that’s the extent of the hurt felt here in Mt. Penn.  I’ll head up to the Fleetwood house after lunch and I expect a lot of tree damage there.

We made every preparation we could save buying a generator and that’s on the list for the future.  Luckily Berks was close enough to the eye that we missed the devastating rain and winds.  I spent my early years outside New York City in North Jersey and feel for those whom the storm devastated.  The damage on the news is sickening.  The only positive from all of this are the jobs created for the clean up and rebuilding.

Remember, Mitt Romney said he’d privatize FEMA.  If you vote Republican please go out and repair your own roads, bridges, electrical grid and public works.

FEMA Update

The latest FEMA update call at 2:30 said Sandy is speeding up as it hits the warm Gulf Stream.  This means the storm is gaining energy.  Landfall is estimated to be between 7-8PM tonight.  It will come across New Jersey and come across southern Pennsylvania.  The hardest hit counties are going to be Philadelphia, Delaware, Chester, York, Adams and Franklin, the southern tier.  The storm will slow down once it hits land.  It is expected to sit over us.

They estimate the storm surge along the Jersey shore to last until late Wednesday.  Tonight’s full moon will contribute to, perhaps, an additional foot storm surge but not significant considering the huge scope of this storm.

People are advised to remain off the roads, Pennsylvania has reduced speed limits on interstates to 45 mph in the region and banned trailers.  

Our conditions here in Reading as steady hard rainfall and increasing winds.

Brace For Sandy

Hurricane sandy is headed directly towards us today.  The eye is set to hit New Jersey and the storm is due to pass over Philadelphia, swing across southern PA then west.  This puts a major storm surge into New York City and all of northeastern Pennsylvania in the brunt of the northeastern winds.  We’ll be getting the worst of this massive storm so be prepared.  Schools have closed and most businesses should be also:  there’s no reason anyone should be anywhere today unless you’re in emergency preparedness.  

Weather experts are predicting today to be the worst.  5-10 inches of rain.  Much preparation has been done.  Here in Berks County, for example, Blue Marsh lake was dropped five feet to prevent the Schuylkill River from flooding.  Flashlight batteries have been impossible to find and folks were stocking up on water.  Fill your bathtub an duse that water for flushing toilets.  Keep a radio tuned in to a local station for local announcements.  If you live in Lancaster listening to a Harrisburg station won’t help you.

Keep your cell phone charged.  If you have a smart phone disable things like wifi and bluetooth.  Close any apps which are running to save juice.  I turned mine off last night.  I have a car charger and will use that to recharge it if the power is out for an extended period of time.

If nothing gets posted for several days assume our power is out here.  Be safe and stay indoors.  Don’t remain near glass doors and large windows.

Sandy Advances

Experts say u to 50 million people will be impacted as Hurricane Sandy advances on the Mid Atlantic region.  New York City is evacuating and all transit in the Big Apple will shut down at 7PM.  Delaware closed Route 1 in the Dewey Beach area this morning.  FEMA and the National Weather Service will not issue tropical storm warning so as not to confuse people when it loses tropical status.  They are simply issuing storm watches and warnings and encouraging everyone to tune in to their local authorities, local weather services and emergency preparedness instructions.

Though this is just a Category 1 storm it is hitting another storm moving east with a cold front moving south and all three will merge into a super storm.  President Obama is being briefed regularly and will return to the White House Monday to supervise the federal response.

Forecasters are predicting Sandy will stall over us and drop rain for two days.  Please prepare as best you can but don’t panic.  I spent all of yesterday afternoon searching for D cell batteries with little luck.  I’m hoping stores will be restocked Monday and try again.  I did get all of our water containers filled and will move some additional firewood down from our old house.  Power could be lost for several days so we aren’t stocking up on additional food.  Bring in any items which could blow around.  If you have yard signs out for your candidates also please take them in.

The storm could very well impact the election due to widespread flooding.  If we had early voting as they do elsewhere that would mitigate the impact on polling but, unfortunately Republicans here block those efforts.  If you think flooding may impact your ability to vote contact your county election services about an absentee ballot.

Visit From Sandy: Preparations

Sandy is coming sometime Monday night and everyone and their uncle is out today gathering emergency supplies.  On a FEMA conference call this afternoon federal officials, including the head of FEMA Craig Fugate, said they expect the eastern third of the nation to feel her presence.  Florida is the only eastern state which will miss her.  West Virginia expects up to two feet of snow and we’ll see between 5-8 inches of rain.  A cold front moving south from Canada will join the tropical storm and another storm front moving eastward to create what’s being called a Frankenstorm.  This one is of our own creation, a result of climate change.

FEMA has moved emergency personnel into Pennsylvania and has supplies stored in New Jersey which expects a ten foot storm surge along its coast.  Winds are expected to hit 60 mph.  The Defense Department has also pre-positioned personnel to assist if needed.

Water and batteries are now scarce commodities.  Get your while you can, the stores are mobbed.