Fools In Raincoats And Twitpic: Irene Coverage As Cartoon

Whether or not you were on the Eastern seaboard this weekend, you went to bed last night thinking about Irene, what she was or what she could have been, depending on where exactly you live in our region. And, oddly, whether or not you work in digital media, in the aftermath you are reflecting on the place of social media, micro-blogging and photo-sharing, in the coverage of Irene over the past 72 hours.

You may or may not believe that officials in New Jersey, New York State and New York City went overboard with precautions: mandatory evacuations, planned power-downs, suspended transit and more. That's another conversation. But, if you were watching and waiting for real information on Saturday night, I would like to know what you thought of the official coverage by sanctioned news outlets. And, the spraying in of social media.

Here on the Upper West Side of New York -- as I vacillated on just how much I should prepare, stock up and batten down for Saturday night -- I was not at all helped along by the sensationalized, character-driven coverage on the major networks and even on the Weather Channel. In all these segments, the slapstick reporter standing IN the surf getting hammered was the story. Does that not break some journalistic principle: thou must not make oneself the story?



Were we served by endless hours of reporters on the best networks and even the Weather Channel, standing in the wind and in the surf, in supposed harm's way pontificating on what-if's and gusts against their ball caps? Weather maps and meteorological factors were barely explained with any specificity before cameras cut back to Jim Cantore or Mike Seidel -- and many impersonators -- practically salivating over the sensationalism of the looming doom, while standing very much in harm's way. If things were as bad as the spotty broadcast coverage implied, this served up a certain "Don't do as I do, do as I say" as these guys sauntered around in the elements. Big disconnect. As the purported peril approached, even Brian Williams and Anderson Cooper seemed to walk very close to the line of ridiculous. I respect them; I found myself hoping they would stand back just far enough.

But, back to the loopy guys standing in the surf -- sometimes barely looking like no more than regular stormy waters -- who seemed to pop up on every channel, at every turn. In today's fragmented media environment, if you are a serious news and information consumer, it is a fact that you must practically curate your own news day through multiple sources. These may include papers on the doorstep; a little broadcast; a few blogs loyal to your topics; some favorite commentators; an RSS feed or two; alerts on your themes of choice; and your communities. If you add to this fragmented reality changing journalistic standards, it's a lot of work. But, for many of us, it remains a labor of love.

Until: We are worried, sitting in our living rooms and wanting to know something real, right now. So, add to fools in raincoats with nothing of consequence to share as the hours roared on the decision of some networks to prioritize social media over their own coverage -- standing before us and broadcasting tweets, posts, and pics across my TV screen -- and "fragmented" does not even begin to describe the situation. And on top of exacerbating already questionable, sensational coverage by peppering us with character-limited bits, this stirs a dangerous mindset. That of the would-be citizen journalist who is somewhat tricked into thinking it's safe to enter into harm's way in the interest of snapping a pic or reporting on their own imminent danger. I recall on Saturday seeing on a friend's Facebook wall a post from one of their friends, "This is no laughing matter. I have many FB friends who are in danger today, risking it, for photos to share. They are in my prayers." As neighboring New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said at some point Saturday, "Get the hell off the beach." It was really upsetting to read things like this. Yet, major coverage was stoking it.

In the end, on top of this cartoonish coverage of the continually downgrading Irene, I found the constant inclusion of social media within this coverage a disheartening emblem of our times. I'm all for integrated coverage of major events if the job of, well, "coverage," is reasonably being accomplished in the first place. And, while I may check in with my own friends, read their feeds or view their Instagrams -- as these are people I know, trust and care about -- that's not why I am tuning in to the news on a dark and stormy night. I want real, current, fleshed-out information with meteorological context. Note to the big guys with the big pipes: please don't use social media -- under the guise of citizen journalism -- as a short cut. You are already taking enough of those.

7 comments about "Fools In Raincoats And Twitpic: Irene Coverage As Cartoon ".
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  1. Spider Graham from Trainingcraft, August 29, 2011 at 12:40 p.m.

    At times, especially on the Weather Channel, the drama offered up by the meteorologists was undermined by people causally walking along the beaches and boardwalks in front of the cameras. I agree. Let's offer some objective reporting on the subject and put the hype away. Are our lives so empty that we need to make natural disasters seem worse than they are?

    On the other hand, I'll admit I was a little disappointed that by the time the storm made it to my house it had pretty much blown itself out. Now what am I going to do with 12 loaves of bread, 20 gallons of spring water and 86 flashlight batteries?

  2. Jesus Grana from Independent, August 29, 2011 at 1:15 p.m.

    Sounds like we had similar experiences - here's my pov ,
    Irene: The Hurricane that Wasn’t, Using Social Media to Dominate the “Airwaves”

  3. Rufus Dogg from DogWalkBlog, August 29, 2011 at 1:48 p.m.

    Here is our cynical opinion of Irene coverage :-) From the storm-ravaged landscape of Dayton, Ohio.

  4. Amy Do from SPARK, August 29, 2011 at 3:54 p.m.

    Amen! The coverage of Irene became comical, and content was far from informative, more dramatized with the extension of social media. The #irene hashtag was filtered with noise. I question, is this how and what the public wants to hear?

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 29, 2011 at 4:13 p.m.

    So what you did you do about the weather ? The same things every station did ad nauseum ? Where were you during the earthquake ? Earthquake ? Obviously, there are some people with not enough to do. BTW, CNN was better than most with weather explanations.

  6. Sheldon Senzon from JMS Media, Inc., August 29, 2011 at 4:37 p.m.

    Kendall, hello. While much of your post is true, way too much over the top/theatrical reporting, I do take exception with your tone. Yes, everyone envisions themselves as the next Jim Cantore/Anderson Cooper, but in the end broadcast media outlets did provide a much needed and appreciated service. Whether we liked or disliked their deliveries they became important outlets for every municipality and affected state to talk to their constituents during a very stressful period. I managed to flip around throughout the few days and was happy see both City Mayors along with State Governors and folks from FEMA, etc. on air advising nervous folks.

    I'm an exNYer in South Florida and understand firsthand what is means to live through a hurricane, consider yourself fortunate living on the West Side and being able to scratch your head in amazement. Just some food for thought.

  7. Amber Newcomer-dyer from Metia , August 29, 2011 at 6:33 p.m.

    I had the same thoughts when I saw the newscasts with reporters in their rain jackets standing at the beach while warning of the dangerous weather conditions.

    The coverage reminds me of the tsunami warning in Hawaii after the earthquake in Chile last year. I had friends, an expectant couple, there during that time and spent the entire day watching the news and reporting back to them at their evacuation spot, but nothing happened.

    I think it points out that there is a thin line between newscasters wanting us to be prepared, and sensationalizing just to get a story.

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