It's an ingrained part of the media-presented spectacle of hurricane coverage: a wind-blown reporter struggles against stinging rain and buffeting winds to breathlessly deliver his or her dramatic story. It's been an integral part of hurricane reporting ever since Dan Rather first made a name for himself with his dramatic reporting from Galveston's seawall during Hurricane Carla in 1961--the first time that television news did live hurricane coverage. But with several reporters narrowly escaping serious injury during coverage of this year's hurricanes, a backlash against this type of reporting is starting to emerge. I, for one, am tired of seeing reporters foolishly risking their lives for a breathless sound bite. I would far prefer that they do their story from safe shelter. They could stick a long pole with a telephone book on it out into the wind and watch it get shredded for drama! Or chuck frisbees into the wind, or have wind up toys march into the tempest and get blown away, or a host of other creative things. Reporters need not be put at risk!
A December 18 article in the Miami Herald
reported on the first case I've heard of where a complaint was filed to OSHA over reporters' safety during hurricane coverage:
WSVN staffers wonder who filed an anonymous complaint against the station with the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) over reporters' safety during hurricane coverage. Luis Santiago, OSHA's area director, confirms the complaint came in Sept. 20 -- a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina.
The allegation: field reporters were exposed to possible injury because they were not provided with safety glasses, face shields, gloves, respiratory protection from flying sand, hard hats and personal flotation devices.
The station's business manager, Diane Jaramillo-Guard, responded "satisfactorily" to OSHA and the case is closed, Santiago says. But, he adds, workers' safety is always of utmost concern. "Management should make very clear to all employees -- no job is so important that you would put yourself in harm's way."
At the upcoming annual meeting of the American Meteorology Society in Atlanta in early February, a special 3-hour communication workshop has been set up to explore this issue, which I hope to attend. Here's the workshop announcement:
Media coverage of land-falling hurricanes has been scrutinized and debated, and even been the subject of humor columns and the op-ed pages. Why are reporters strapped to trees in order to bring viewers images of roofs and street signs hurling through the air or standing ankle deep on the beach talking about dangerous surf and storm surge? Is this just sensational journalism or proving valuable news coverage?
The Fifth Communication Workshop will take a closer look at hurricane coverage from several different perspectives: the broadcast meteorologist who covers the storms from the stations weather studio, the reporter standing on the beach during 75 mph winds, and the executive decision maker who sends the reporter to the beach. If you have a gripe about media coverage during hurricanes or severe weather and want to see better science coverage, this is the time to share your thoughts and insights.
Speakers include Peter Dykstra, executive producer for Science, Technology, Space, Environment, and Weather at CNN; Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center; Bob Breck, chief meteorologist at WVUE-TV in New Orleans, LA; Greg Agvent, director of planning at CNN; and Terry Connelly, senior vice president/general manager, The Weather Channel Network.
I'll be back next week with some observations on this winter's weather. The climate change blogs will resume after January 1.
Have a great Christmas, everyone!