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    Six Things Media Personalities Could and Should Avoid when Covering a Disaster


    On Monday, May 20, a devastating monster of a tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma; the second category 5 tornado to hit this little town. (It happened before on May 3, 1999, with 44 deaths.) Reports coming in today, the day after, state it was two miles wide, of colossal, possibly even record-breaking, proportions. Whole neighborhoods have been flattened, and the grim prediction is that the number of dead, at 24 as of this writing, is sure to rise.

    Tragically, the 2013 tornado in Moore took out two separate elementary schools while children were attending classes.  They each took direct hits, with numerous injuries and at least nine school deaths reported so far.

    Because it's such a huge disaster, some 24 hours afterward, after a full day and night of non-stop coverage, facts and theories are competing for attention with the non-stop emotional wrangling provided by fully grown, professionally trained, gainfully employed anchors and reporters who, in calmer times--we can only hope--really, truly hate that sort of thing.

    I've been wandering around the internet today while watching the coverage on TV and I think I can safely say that for that one person out of a hundred who wants to see bloodied heads and terrified kids and TV personalities asking how the victims are feeling, there are 99 of us who don't.

    So here is my short list of things those pros might want to avoid when reporting a disaster, if they want to remain professionals and not be seen forevermore as shameless hacks:

    • 1. If it's a hurricane, a blizzard or a tornado, do not allow yourself to be talked into standing out in the wind and rain/snow in order to show your audience that it's incredibly windy and raining/snowing really hard.  Get yourself inside. Plant yourself in front of a window and direct the cameraperson (who doesn't want to be out there any more than you do) to film you as you report on the wind and rain you can both see outside that window.  We will see what you see.  The effect will be the same--big wind, heavy rain/snow--and you'll save your clothing, your hair and your dignity.  (The best part is that it won't be about you trying to challenge the weather when the real story is about the many others who will have lost everything.)
    • 2. You should at all costs avoid the overuse of the following words or phrases--unless the use of them is absolutely essential to the story:  (Hint:  There is almost no case where these words will add anything to your story.)  Death and destruction, horror, terror, disturbing, unspeakable, heartbreaking, heart-wrenching, heartrending, mangled bodies, crushed bodies, body parts, severed limbs, entrails, decapitation, impalement. 
    • 3. After the first two hours or so, it's time to stop describing the scene as "like a battle/war zone".  Ditto, the sound as "like a freight train".  Break out the thesaurus if you must, but really--I beg you to cease and desist.
    • 4. Do not stand in the same pile of rubble, teddy bear in hand (or Disney Princess bowling ball--my god, CNN!), repeating the same script hour after hour. Use a little imagination.  We're not all just coming to you for the first time; some of us are tuned in impatiently waiting for some real news.
    • 5. Avoid like the plague interviewing anyone who insists that God has saved them or their loved ones.  We all understand that their gratitude knows no bounds once they find that they/their loved ones are alive, and it does seem miraculous, but please give some consideration to those folks who weren't so lucky.  Logic dictates that if God has the power and the inclination to save one person, he could--but didn't--save another.  If the interviewee doesn't have enough sense to understand how hurtful that can be to a victim's family, you as the professional should.  Don't be a witness to that.
    • 6. And lastly and most importantly, never, never, never bend over and shove a microphone into a small child's face, expecting them to say something meaningful.  You will not only appear insane look stupid, you will have lost all semblance of integrity.  Even if a parent gives permission and is standing right there encouraging that small child, do not do it.  It isn't about you.  It isn't about the parent.  It isn't about the ratings.  As the viewer, it's not about me, either.  It's about the children.  This is their tragedy, not ours.  We can't begin to know how they feel, and it's not our place to expect them to explain.  (Note:  if you find yourself searching for sad signs of a happier, pre-disaster child; a disheveled doll, a mangled pedal car, a broken toy, so you can go all melodramatic on us--stop.  Just stop. Please.)

    The victims deserve not to have to be victimized twice, all in the name of filling time while waiting for the rest of the story.  The last thing they need in times like these is to have to wrestle with an over-zealous yahoo with a microphone and a camera.  That's why so many of them ask you to go away.  It's a pity more of them don't.


    (Cross-posted at Ramona's Voices)



    A good question from a 'real reporter' (ie, not a highly paid corporate 'media personality'):

    ...Albert Ashwood, an emergency management official, said the two schools that were hit lacked safe rooms for storms, because the appropriate financing had not been applied for. Limited funds meant that other priorities were set, he said. The presence of safe rooms, however, he said, however, did “not necessarily” mean that more students would have survived. But it is a “mitigating” factor, he said. “This was a very unique tornado,” he said. Despite being located in a region prone to tornadoes — and being devastated by one in 1999 — the city of Moore, according to its Web site, has no ordinance requiring storm safe rooms in public or private facilities.....

    The children of Oklahoma learn early on just how much their lives are worth to the Republicans who run things there. A teacher's body to protect the kids is all they had. See, it's less expensive than a funding safe rooms.

    Given a 15 minutes tornado warning, safe bet that Mr. Albert Ashwood would haul his own ass into a safe room, though it might 'not necessarily' save his life.

    I saw a comment somewhere about the two schools being in "poor neighborhoods" and thus not candidates for safe rooms.  If that's true, and other schools have them, heads should roll.  But they won't.

    Moore has had 4 tornados starting May 3, 1999 EF5 storm then having two small ones and ending with EF 5 yesterday.  I would guess that Insurance Co's will not insure home owners in that town any more.  It is a problem in Florida because of politics.  Most of Oklahoma's politics don't make a bit of sense either.  It has always been that way.  Maybe they will wake up to Inoff and Colburn being owned by the oil and gas industry.  We need national insurance for these kinds of events not just floods.

    Yes, it's probably true that insurance companies are skittish there.  But their own governments should be on top of it, given their history of crazy weather.  And, yes, the fed should have been on top of it, too.  If people are going to be allowed to live in those places they should be protected.

    Guess I jumped the gun on this one.  I should have known Wolf Blitzer would top everyone.  He asked a tornado survivor if she "thanked the lord" for being here.  She's an atheist.

    Honest to God.

    I had been following a live weather blog on Sunday and knew to check back on Monday because the weather conditions were going to be dangerous for that area.  So I got to see live feed from KFOR channel 4 Oklahoma City as it was happening.  In fact they are still live streaming tonight.http://http://kfor.com/on-air/live-streaming/  Also there is a fantastic weatherman at Channel 9 Oklahoma City KWTV and a chopper pilot Jim Gardener that did an excellent job of tracking where that Tornato was on the ground.  I switched back and forth between the two as they were live streaming the situation.  Both stations had choppers in the air tracking and giving reports following its progress.  It was some of the most amazing work I have ever seen newscasters do.  Their focus was saving lives.  It put the national networks to shame.  Afterwards they continued their coverage and stayed focused on rescue.  I stayed with the two stations the rest of the evening and night.  This was their town and they knew what was needed in their reports.  

    Sounds fascinating.  Wish I had known about it or thought to go looking for something like that.  That's the way to follow a story like this.  Thanks,  Momoe.

    I just google for Tv stations in the nearest large town.  I also get tips from other blogs that I read.  It is better than national networks.

    They all get this in school; they are taught this crap.

    It is all propaganda; propaganda issued for the purposes of ratings.

    My Lord, almost every single minute of cable news tells the same stories.

    However, these brief discussions of heroics by our teachers just crush me.

    The Teachers at Sandy were great, great heroes in saving the lives of scores of little babies.

    And the Teachers in Oklahoma, my God, what wonderful human beings they truly are.

    And I have learned that repubs in Oklahoma with the exception of those two goddamnable US Senators, have been more than supportive of our President's efforts to do right!

    So I learned much from the cable news and the larger web sites even though I actually turned the sound off on my TV for prolonged periods.

    I was just taken, really taken to the point of tears, by the heroics of our Teachers.

    I might even capitalize Teacher for the rest of my life!

    Teacher with a capital T.  Seems fitting.  They are pretty wonderful aren't they?  And they need all the champions they can get.

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