Viewers get mixed messages on storm from TV
People brace against a gust from Hurricane Sandy in Brooklyn's Dumbo neighborhood Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in New York. Residents of the neighborhood were ordered to evacuate because of the storm surge expected from the hurricane. Authorities warned that New York City and Long Island could get the worst of the storm surge: an 11-foot onslaught of seawater that could swamp lower areas of the city. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
NEW YORK (AP) — Television networks offered compelling pictures and a gripping narration of the monster storm that put Monday on hold for millions of people in the eastern part of the country — and more than a few mixed messages, too.
Anchors and reporters repeatedly urged viewers to stay at home and stay safe during the storm, yet they solicited pictures and videos to show evidence of Hurricane Sandy's might and displayed them on the air.
Reporters with rain dripping off their windbreakers expressed incredulity at civilians walking around outside, like when CNN's Ashleigh Banfield noted joggers at New York's Battery Park City.
A Fox News Channel crew aired pictures of two men jumping into the roiling Hudson River off Battery Park. During a live shot at the same location, a WNBC-TV camera zeroed in on a man riding on a jet ski. Reporter Ida Siegal for the local NBC affiliate shouted above the wind at the man to explain why he was there.
"Nothing else to do," he shouted back.
Television's message: Don't try this. But if you do, you may get on TV!
The news crews filled a vital role in showing, rather than telling, viewers about the impact of the storm. Television is a visual medium, and there's only so much to be done with a studio and a map.
The challenge for reporters comes in making that story less about themselves.
On Monday afternoon, CNN's Ali Velshi stood in a pool of water on an Atlantic City, N.J., street. Wind whipped around him, creating ripples on the water and forcing Velshi to work to keep his footing.
Some 50 feet in front of Velshi, the road was free of standing water and the wind was less harsh, the spot seemingly shielded by a building. In the studio, meteorologist Chad Myers suggested Velshi move up. Velshi declined, noting he had put on a few pounds and was thus sturdier.
"We know how to do this," he said. "We've done it before. We know how to reach safety."
On The Weather Channel, Reynolds Wolf was stationed in Stonington, Conn., where he talked about storm surge while standing on the edge of a dock rocking in the water. One unexpected gust of wind, and Wolf would be in Long Island Sound.
In Ocean City, Md., CNN's Sandra Erdo stood in front of a beach being hit by mountainous waves. She delivered a report with her right arm wrapped around a tree to keep her from blowing down. Fox's Steve Harrigan, also in Ocean City, stood on an unprotected patch of land describing how the wind was starting to blow objects around, including a stop sign that had just snapped off.