Monday, July 11, 2005

CNN hurricane coverage descends into utter banality

The Weather Channel pioneered the idea: send a video crew and a personality out into the middle of a hurricane to report in real time. The reporter stands in front of surging waters and tilting palm trees, and tells you it's mighty windy out here. Hurricane Dennis gave CNN an opportunity to compete head-to-head, with multiple crews reporting from the path of the storm.

CNN's Anderson Cooper took this to a new extreme when he and colleagues stood by to watch a large Ramada Inn sign fall down in real time. He and a colleague excitedly uttered such Pulitzer-winning observations as "Wow, that sign is really twisting in the wind!"

Cooper and company ducked behind the building in anticipation that -- gasp -- the sign might blow over. Then -- surprise of surprises! -- the sign blew over.

You would've thought Cooper and company had witnessed the Battle of the Bulge, the assassination of JFK, or the marines storming Baghdad. "I've never seen anything like this before!" they exclaimed to each other.

What possible purpose does it serve to put these people in harm's way to watch a sign blow over in hurricane winds? TV lives for eye candy, and hurricanes causing damage is good eye candy, but it makes no sense to have the talent stand upwind of a giant falling object.

Oh, wait: it does make sense: in this world of personality journalism, CNN seeks to build the Anderson Cooper brand. So CNN replays this banal footage over and over again, showing us what a courageous guy Anderson Cooper is.

Even worse, they've got seasoned, professional reporters like Miles O'Brien seriously intoning after each report from the stormy field "Be careful out there." How can any intelligent reporter watch a colleague put himself in harm's way for no real purpose and then urge caution?

There is a distinction between being brave and being foolish. And surely there are more important stories, involving human beings with real losses -- not motel signs -- that should be reported. But CNN doesn't have that footage in the can yet -- and since no one died in this storm, human stories don't make good eye candy.

One of these days a chunk of flying debris will kill one of these intepid reporters, or one of their unknown crew members. Since the hurricane dance is such a common practice now, I think OSHA should step in and set standards. They should declare hurricane zones a workplace for idiotic TV reporters. They should require protective headgear. They should require that the crew take cover when the wind speed exceeds a certain level.

By the way, what happened to the Natalee Holloway story?


goekesmi said...

Based on the current Google search results for "Natalee Holloway" it appears that I'm not the only one who got tired of hearing that story. That said, I'm not at all convinced that CNN came up with anything better for a replacement. Remember, it's about selling eyeballs to advertisers, and if CNN can do that by letting it's anchors get hit by flying signs in a storm, I bet they would. If it keeps you watching, it doesn't really matter what they are reporting.

Rick Blaine said...

I also saw CNN's courageous live reporting of the blowing over of a hotel sign. But, I didn't see where Anderson Cooper and Company were in all that much danger. They stood behind a wind breaking wall. And praising and re-praising their courage from the anchor desk in Atlanta only made the afternoon of reporting more and more pathetic.

"I've never seen anything like this before!" ??? I think those guys need to get out more.