It is all about the Ratings by Ron Steinman
As I write, Hurricane Maria is already destroying many islands as it makes its way through that beleaguered part of the world. Network news directors across America are salivating over this dynamic, sad and devastating story. Many smaller newsrooms are also covering the fast-moving storm. They do this by putting reporters, camerapersons and producers in so-called harm’s way by making them stand in places normal people cannot and, if smart, would not put themselves. These men and women experience powerful wind, heavy rain, flying debris such as tree branches, hub cabs, and downed power lines. The reporters and their crews, solid professionals all, end up in enormous danger, and under heavy pressure by news producers for first-person accounts of yet another unbridled beast of nature. The information that will flow from the efforts of the news professionals will be a big help for ratings.
During Hurricane’s Harvey and Irma, these same news men and women got out their heavily waterproofed rain gear, put on rain hats and rubber gaiters up to their necks, waded through toxic floods and stood in the heavy rain, some even tethered to a stationary post in the fast moving winds to report the story. Because social media wants to be intimate with everything we do, the internet exploded with shock over what those reporters were doing—mainly how they were placing themselves in a risky situation. For some, it was a way to get a good or better reputation, to move up the ladder of success. Time to make their bones. And with Maria already destroying everything in its path, these reporters and crewmembers will stay dressed for the current round of action.
Newspapers, the Internet, and television published many stories about people’s concerns for the journalists who were only doing their job. I think it is fair to say that none were doing what they did under duress. They were in the storms because news directors and producers assigned them to what for civilians would have been dangerous jobs. And they went willingly.
I admit that when I was producing for the Today Show, and a storm was coming, I assigned reporters and crews to cover the story along the path of a hurricane, because it got people’s attention and brought in viewers. Never forget the need for ratings. I never thought twice about an individual’s safety during that coverage. The people covering the storm were adults. I had no guilt about putting anyone in so-called harm’s way, though I frequently asked how he or she was doing. But I did that quietly. Today with social media noise surrounding everything we do, as much as some might fear for our intrepid journalists in seeming peril, if you asked them about the experience, I venture to say they would tell you to look somewhere else for sympathy. After all, they might say, just doing my job.