Local television executives like to say it's all hands on
deck when breaking news such as a lethal hurricane hits, and sometimes that
even means the station general manager grabbing a camera and playing
photographer for a few hours.
That's what Craig Jahelka, vice president and general
manager at WBOC in Salisbury, Md., did when the station needed someone to haul
a camera around Monday morning, with Hurricane Sandy lurking off shore.
"At times like this," he says, "everyone's got to pitch
Covering Irene last year is fresh on East Coast reporters'
minds, but it's becoming clearer that Irene was a relative non-issue compared
with the massive magnitude of Sandy. No less an expert than WeatherChannel reporter Jim Cantore told B&C,
"You could probably put two Irenes inside this thing, maybe two and a
half. The size of this enormous."
Covering such a giant event presents a stiff challenge for
station reporters. Within the CBS family, reporters, and equipment, from as far
off as Minneapolis and Dallas headed east to pitch in with owned stations in
New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston. "It's probably the biggest
storm we've experienced in more than a generation," said David Friend,
senior VP of news at the CBS owned stations.
Stations are making the most of technological and social
media advances -- at times with resources that were not available, or not as
widely available, as recently as when Irene rolled up the coast. CBS' Mobile 2
Weather Lab is an SUV equipped with weather technology, including wind meters
and rain gauges, to provide street level weather updates. "It brings
viewers closer to the action," says Friend. "At the end of the day,
that's what we're here for."
The technological ambitions in DMA No. 144 are more modest.
WBOC is partnering with Clear Channel Radio and Delmarva Public Radio to
simulcast its news on the radio. The TV screen features three crawls side by
side by side: breaking news, school closings and closings of hospitals,
businesses, etc. A new smartphone app will keep people connected when the power
shuts down -- something the station did not offer during Irene.
"That's new for us," says Jahelka. "We hope
it's a life saver."
Stations are asking viewers to pitch in with the reporting.
WMDT Salisbury (Md.) has 25-30 "Weather Watchers" -- local weather
aficionados around the market who contribute images and readings. When WNYW New
York's crew heard about the wind-induced crane collapse in Manhattan Monday,
vice president news director Dianne Doctor went to Facebook -- and promptly
found a photo of the structure, posted by a friend who lives down the block
from where the incident took place.
The role of social media in newsgathering has increased even
since Irene, says Doctor. "It continues to explode," she says.
"Everyone's a reporter. It makes our coverage better. The storm is so vast
that it's the only effective way to cover this story."
In the nation's largest DMA around 3 p.m., the
meteorologists were forecasting an earlier landfall than was initially thought --
Sandy perhaps hitting southern New Jersey by 5 p.m. The storm surge concept
dominated coverage. "The coastal erosion could be enormous," said
Lonnie Quinn, WCBS chief meteorologist. "I think our shoreline could be
changed because of this storm."
WNYW reporter Matt Alvarez was in Long Branch, N.J., getting
pummeled by wind and waves. "The major part of this thing has yet to
strike," he said. "You just wonder what that will be like."
Newsroom denizens are prepping for a long night of covering
the moving story. One weapon in the WBOC arsenal, a helicopter, will remain in
its hangar until the thick of the storm passes through. At that point, the
station will take to the skies to assess the damage. "As we get our first
look at everything, we'll share that with viewers," said Jahelka.
"Good, bad or indifferent, people want to see it."
Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.
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