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COVERING HARVEY

September 8, 2017

photo courtesy, CNN

It’s hard to imagine that anyone who has been watching television coverage of Hurricane Harvey can agree with President Trump’s declalration that the press is an enemy of the people. The efforts of television reporters and producers for all the television networks have provided Americans with a valuable public service that has been nothing short of extraordinary. Victims of this hurricane have desperately needed information and have relied heavily on television news to guide them through the disaster. Next to covering war, a natural disaster of this magnitude is one of the most difficult and exhausting news stories for news organizations to cover. The logistics of getting reporters and support staff into the flooded areas and then getting live video out are daunting.

For all the reporters we see on-scene, there are dozens of support staff backing them up. Camera operators are wading through deep water fighting the elements to get to a stranded family. Technicians are capturing video from those cameras using sophisticated microwave receivers and transmitters. Video editors are using those pictures to package news stories for newscasts that are being broadcast around the clock. Other technicians are transmitting live video to satellite technicians who then transmit the video to their respective news headquarters in New York or nearby bureaus. Unit managers are getting food and water out to the crews in the field who often pass their rations out to stranded residents that are being rescued. Other unit managers are procuring boats and rain gear that are shuttled out to staff in the field. Still thers are booking hotel rooms and transportation for exhausted personnel.

These are just the technical aspects of the coverage. The editorial responsibilities are equally daunting. A host of producers and editors are guiding the field crews and gathering information from wire services and local news outlets. Others are editing information in real time and passing it on to studio anchors.

Then there are ethical decisions that need to be made on the spot. Should reporters be requesting live interviews with rescued residents who are sometimes in a state of shock? One anchor who was reporting live on MSNBC kept urging a reporter on the scene to walk over to weeping residents who had just been rescued to ask them how they are feeling. The reporter was obviously reluctant to intrude on the residents while they were grieving and suggested to the anchor that they give the residents time to recover from their distress. It was the right decision, and it was made on live television by responsible television journalists.

Reporters also suffer from post traumatic symptoms by simply being exposed to all the stress and trauma of the people that they are covering. Some will need post traumatic counseling themselves when this ordeal is over.

Sometimes reporters take advantage of a story like this to grandstand and resort to sensationalized reporting. I’ve not seen anything like that on any of the coverage so far. So far, this has been a proud moment for the television news profession.

Joe Angotti
(Angotti is a former vice president and executive producer at NBC News
in New York who now resides in Monmouth, IL)

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