Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Special: Tornado Crisis And Television


We are going to step away from NASCAR for one day and return on Thursday evening with a new column. Many Americans lost their lives on Wednesday night in an amazing tornado outbreak that stretched from Texas through Virginia.

As perhaps many of you did, I turned to the cable news networks for updates. I found O'Reilly on FOX, a show about greed on CNBC, Nancy Grace on Headline News, former Gov. Spitzer on CNN and some guy who wanted the last word on MSNBC. What I did not find was coverage of this national disaster.

It was only the hardworking men and women at The Weather Channel (TWC) who were holding up their end of the bargain and offering non-stop coverage of the storms. Radar, videos and pics were great tools to help people across the Southeast stay informed.

TWC had reporters in the field doing liveshots, several roaming with the storms. The network has a severe storm expert following the live radar and offering a tremendous amount of information to viewers. Finally, TWC was completely on top of the social media side with information, pictures and videos from Twitter and Facebook.

The outrage that FOX, CNN and the NBC cable news nets appeared not to care about the weather situation is well-deserved. Between President Obama's birth certificate, the royal wedding and Donald Trump's self-promotion there was plenty of juicy content for the various primetime programs.

These types of shows are called long-form branded content. Long because they are one hour in length and branded because they have a specific person, like O'Reilly or Nancy Grace, associated with them. It wasn't always this way, but it is what the current cable TV news networks have become.

TWC's severe weather expert Dr. Greg Forbes was no doubt a lifesaver to many Wednesday night. The tireless meteorologist was constantly updating a myriad of radar images on the fly and continually moving people out of the way of the storm.

His intensity made it even more ironic when a spin of the dial caught the cable news talking heads ranting on subjects that made little impact but let them make noise in the ratings.

Perhaps you can share with us your actions on seeking news about these Wednesday evening storms. What network or website did you wind-up turning to for the information you wanted? How did it work and what made sense to you the most?

I think it's time for the cable news networks, especially CNN and HLN to look in the mirror and return to program line-ups based on information from the real world. It used to be that the cable news nets filled an agenda of updating the stories of the day in primetime. Now, it's all about scripted drama, overstatements and agendas.

Leave us a note on your opinion of this topic by clicking the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree. Just because the South isn't a big-market media target, it's no excuse not to cover this tragedy. They do it for hurricanes--why not for something this dangerous?

Buschseries61 said...

Here in New York, I had no idea how bad things were down South. I went to the gym right after work. At the gym I saw O'Reilly on FOX & Spitzer on CNN on Trump and Obama. It's sad I saw the news here first when I came home.

I think it's sad for today's young people growing up with this tv environment. These shows are toxic and give impressionable teens the wrong impression of American cultural standards. I'm glad the Weather Channel stepped up to help. Just a few years ago it was filled with reality/scripted tv garbage in prime time instead of the actual weather. My thoughts and prayers are with all those people dealing with the tornado crisis.

red said...

i've been on TWC and twitter all night. while i love playoff hockey & wanted to watch the bruins-canadiens game 7, that all faded when i first read about these storms on twitter.

the vast majority of my news, photos, videos have come thru twitter & i just sent the red cross link for searching for family to one of our twitter & TDP buddies who has family in the hard-hit areas.

i wonder how many folks will wake up in the morning and be amazed that all this happened while they were oblivious because neither cable nor network tv alerted them to the issue. and if one doesn't know this sort of disaster is coming your way, how does one take action to stay alive?

i live in a part of the country outside philly where we just don't have emergency alert systems -- unless the limerick nuclear plant has another "moment." if tonight's projected severe thunderstorms turn violent, i'll have no alert system, no sirens, no alarms. so you can bet i'm staying with TWC until i know we're relatively safe.

and the lead story on the local news at 11 on all 3 networks: royal wedding. how helpful.

it's social media shaming cable and network "news" once again.

boyd said...

I have a lot of family in the areas that were hard hit by the storms Wednesday.

My cousin is a student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Cousins in Scottsboro, Alabama, and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

I too flipped through the news channels hoping to find out more information, but had to keep going back to Dr. Forbes on The Weather Channel


You could see that even he was getting overwhelmed by the events of the storm.

I still have no word from the relatives and am still trying phone, and have left messages on their Facebook pages.

If this had been in a foreign or third world country, the "news channels" would have been all over it. I wish they could have at least spent a little time covering this natural disaster for us.

This is a very historic day in weather, and I don't give a rats arse about the Royal Wedding.

Thanks to twitter and Dr. Forbes and The Weather Channel, I was kept informed.

KoHoSo said...

While I don't believe even this historic tornado outbreak warrants a complete break-in on the three so-called news cable/satellite channels. it certainly did not deserve to be completely ignored in their on-air product.

On the other hand, this is the price we pay for having a 500+ channel universe plus the Internet. While I don't believe those channels should have ignored this tragedy (still unfolding as I write this with tornado warnings all over the National Weather Service map), I can see the angle that most people sitting in California (where I now live) and many other states would tune to another station rather than watch events happening so far away. The three big news channels must know this so mentions of this outbreak have been minimal.

To tie this in with our usual subject on this blog, I think there's also a bias in New York and Los Angeles against tornadoes just as there is in Bristol against NASCAR. "Tornadoes happen to poor rednecks that live in trailer parks" is the thought and thus they don't get the same level of coverage as a hurricane threatening Miami.

This attitude also runs through the population outside of our tornado-prone states. The people here in California often laugh at tornado news...yet all the while sitting just miles from the San Andreas Fault which will, sooner or later, cause more death and destruction than most tornado outbreaks and hurricanes combined.

Sadly, that's a pretty stupid attitude as tornadoes can happen anywhere...just ask Salt Lake City. Heck, we had an EF-2 run along I-215 in the Inland Empire in 2008 during rush hour. Had it been just a few yards to one side. the carnage could have been horrific. Unfortunately, it would take something that awful to get people in SoCal to realize that tornadoes are no laughing matter.

It comes down to this. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel are in the entertainment business. Unless a "breaking news" event is judged to be "entertaining" to a majority of the population, it will not be covered. Their current programming makes more money so leave it to the "specialty channel" if people want to see what's happening...or, follow JD and yours truly on Twitter to get live LOCAL streams that are often better than what TWC can provide when they have to break for a commercial every ten minutes. ;-)

It's either that or we bring back the "public service" requirements even for cable/satellite channels and reinstate the Fairness Doctrine...and how many fans of either Fox or MSNBC would be happy with that?

Jeremy t said...

I think it's pathetic... Shame on all the cable news networks. To have to reply on twitter and the weather channel is sad state of journLism...

Terry G said...

It's a travesty what the cable news networks have become. They did a short (like 30 second) "update" on CNN, then back to the talking heads blabbing about Obamas birth certificate.
Thank God for the weather channel. At least they were giving people information that could help save lives. If people where looking for information from anywhere but the Weather Channel, they were sorely disappointed. Shame on the "news" networks.

john said...

well written...bravo

RPM said...

I'm sure most people did the same as I and turned on their LOCAL stations for weather info.

While CNN may be a good source for news, their weather coverage blows unless it's something like a hurricane where they can get their reporters in place and wait for it to arrive.

Anonymous said...

The Weather Channel is the best for this and what I watched from NC for news on the storms today.

When they don't get into the weather TV shows and the Al Roker crap, WEATHER plain and simple is what they do best.

And should do all the time.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100%. The cable news channels have become a joke. They all slant a story depending on what side they are on. When they had a chance to help tonight covering the storms they were slanting again. More important to them instead of helping to save the life of someone.

Waste of time to watch them. You know exactly which side of the story they are going to take before they open their mouth. So no need to watch.

JS said...

Most of the major news networks are all about ratings and being hard-hitting these days, outdoing the other networks instead of telling people what's going on. They're a joke. FOX News is anything but "Fair and Balanced".

Good on The Weather Channel. At least they knew better than to cut to Cantore Stories or On The Edge when ugly weather was going on.

wmwiz said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I found excellent coverage on the websites of local stations in Birmingham and Atlanta. Thank God for live streaming and radio stations who carry a TV partner's audio in an emergency.

Anonymous said...

Local news. If cable television were on fire, I wouldn't...well...you get the idea. Kept a brief eye on TWC's Twitter account once I discovered one existed to see how bad it was, and was unpleasantly shocked at the damage and tornado formations.

Take a look at listings for, say, your basic cable provider (not fancy digital, not the 10 channel lineup packages, but what your average Joe has) and you will be absolutely appalled at the lack of programming.

New, varied, or even something that isn't a marathon of the same show day in, day out. (Lookin' at you, USA channel!)

Reckon at the end of the day, media providers have discovered they can wheel out bags of wooden nickels, call 'em real, tell the unwashed masses they have value, and everyone will believe them.

Doesn't much matter if it's Nascar related or just a cable thing.

I read a lot of books nowadays. :)

Gymmie said...

I don't have TV so don't have access to TWC so Twitter was my main source. Someone posted a link to a Ustream of one of the stations that I watched from time to time. Many of the tweets made me wish I had. I had never heard of Dr. Forbes until today & he sounds amazing!

When we had our icky weather here the past week or so, Twitter & Facebook the main source & a feed to a stream that feeds from the local stations. If the local stations were on the air it was that otherwise it was an emergency alert type dealio. I have a few of the weather folks as friends on FB in addition to their Twitter. They update both, but do more detailed information on FB & are better able to answer questions on their FB.

For ours I had a column up for the txwx hashtag & have our local channels, TWC, severe studios & a few others on my Twitter follow as well.

BP News Bureau said...

The network news channels doesn't give a rat's rear-end about the southeast. They think we're a bunch of rednecks living in some trailer park. Seriously, when they do stories about something or someone in the south, they make us look like dumb hicks. I watched the Weather Channel... I'm done with cable news channels.

BTW, thanks to you, John, for your coverage on the DP. I was reading your tweets and following your links you posted while watching TWC. Good job.

MRM4 said...

From at least 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. this morning, our local stations here in Knoxville had constant weather coverage. Those people did an excellent job. I didn't need to turn anywhere else. Too bad the rest of the country was not as updated as we were. But since we were in the path of these storms, that was priority #1 with us.

Tracy D said...

Our local NBC station stayed on the weather nonstop last night. Preempted all regular programming. Only station to do so. Good for them!

GinaV24 said...

Our local news in Phila covered the outbreak and was talking about the damage, but as you pointed out, none of the other cable news was covering it until I switched the the weather channel.

Those folks did a fantastic job keeping the radar updated and I hope that they were able to help people potentially avoid disaster.

I have stopped watching most of the news shows since they are all opinion based and can no longer from my perspective be considered "news" shows. I never watch Nancy Grace -- once was plenty for me. I wouldn't have expected her to cover any weather related issues, her hair might get mussed.

I am so very sorry for all of those folks impacted by the storms.

GinaV24 said...

Boyd, I hope that all of your family is safe and is able to contact you soon.

gregory pilcher said...

The UStream link you had on twitter of ABC 33 in Birmingham was what I was watching. Online. TWC still was breaking away every 8 minutes for local weather. Thanks for your comments John. I couldn't agree more.

Charlie said...

I wrote the Fox New Channel and told them they should have covered the news about the tornadoes as it was happening and not report it a day later.
If there had been a car chase they would have reported it. If someone got there order messed up at a McDonalds they would have reported it.

Thank you The Weather Channel for being on the air and covering this disaster in real time. You probably saved many lives.

gregory pilcher said...

I watched the USTREAM link of ABC 33 in Birmingham - that you tweeted. Thanks for that. I watched that for most of the night. TWC still was breaking away every 8 minutes for local weather - which can be a bit redundant...but necessary - so I had that on the TV & the UStream online. Great comments, John. I couldn't agree more.

lisa_n said...

After seeing The Weather Channel's tweets regarding the squall lines and their likelihood of spawning tornadoes, my husband & I stayed on the Weather Channel all night. We have friends and family throughout the affected region. Initially TWC kept up its "Local on the 8's"- local weather every 10 mins- and while they did that, we sought out local news coverage online. Birmingham's Fox affiliate (with weatherman JP Dice) was extraordinary. That guy was on the air, in front of that map for at least 6 hours last night with updates & warnings. Atlanta's Fox affiliate, however, chose to show 40+ minutes of American Idol both to home viewers AND on their online feed. Utterly perplexing when a huge portion of their market was directly affected by the storms. At this point, when breaking news happens, I won't bother going to the cable news outlets. Local news online all the way.

Vince said...

I don't watch the cable national news stations any more because I don't have cable. But even before then I quit watching.

I'm from a generation who grew up listening to guys like Walter Cronkite, David Brinkly, Chet Huntley, etc. Guys with solid reputations of fair, objective reporting. What do we have on the air for news now days? A bunch of talking heads who all have their own agenda. It's not news anymore, it's entertainment and how many eyes can we get on our "product".

Who do we have to thank for all of this? A guy many of you have heard of before. Rupert Murdoch. He started the entertainment based news programs over on Fox News and the rest; CNN, MSNBC have followed suit. The state of the "news" business in this country now is laughable.

I too have family and friends in the southeast and hope they and every one else down there are doing ok. Our prayers go out to you.

glenc1 said...

I have been a junkie of TWC for years. Well, until recently when they decided that lifestyle programming is better than the actual weather. All this ‘social media’ crap, and yes, JD, *most* of it is crap. For every valuable photo of an actual tornado, they show 25 more of people’s kids/pets/property that do nothing but waste my time. Finding objects in the clouds? Really? So much crap that the actual valuable uses of Twitter get lost in the shuffle (no doubt it could save lives in this type of crisis.) And then there are the *endless* promos for this Aussie photographer whining about how hard it is to get his shot. I will never watch the show because I’m so sick of hearing about him. I do watch the occasional Cantore/Storm Stories, and historical ones, but there is too much reality stuff. I want to see people talking about the weather live, not some popular culture garbage. And they’ve let some really good people go.

That rant over—let’s get to the networks. I live in NYS, but I happen to care about what happens to people here & in the rest of the world (such as Japan.) And all I got was Piers Morgan (separate rant, they couldn’t find an American host?) talking royal wedding. And all the political arguing/junk that we usually get on the ‘news entertainment’ shows. I was infuriated, but not surprised. KoSoHo made most of the valid points, but it was just so sad. Japan got better crisis coverage than our *own* country.

Dr Forbes has got to be one of the most unlikely heroes ever. I’ve started to wonder sometimes when the man sleeps. And TorCon would appear to have real value, although I’m no science expert. But watching them walk around the studio with the handheld cameras and the radar, showing Jeff Morrow out there on the hill tornado in the background, Cantore hunting for stories; it was TV at its finest. Shame on the news networks for doing so poorly. While streaming is nice, let’s not forget that there are many, many people out there without that capability for access or financial reasons.

And Vince is right but that's a *whole* other topic!

Jojay said...

Thanks to The Weather Channel & Dr. Forbes for last nights coverage, like others we have family in Texas, Tenn., and VA - so we were trying to get info in somewhat close to real time. We finally gave up with the "ahem" news channels and just stayed with TWC.

JD & others you are right if it was a hurricane hitting Florida news channels would have covered it, interrupt Trumps, Royals & the birthers? Not gonna happen.

Boyd & others - I hope your family are safe, ours did OK.

KoHoSo said...

glenc1...an excellent comment, and I thought that even before I saw my name in it. ;-)

For those in the forecasting/chasing community (or others that follow it closely from afar like myself), The Weather Channel is often considered to be a bad joke. This has been especially true since being taken over by NBCUniversal and the addition of total fluff such as Wake Up with Al and even showing movies on Friday nights (sometimes even during small tornado outbreaks).

They have also been guilty of over-hyping events especially hurricanes. This often gets them criticized for trying to push so-called "disaster porn."

Thankfully, none of that was the case over the past couple of days. TWC stayed live even overnight instead of running the same pre-recorded loop during the overnight hours until the first run of Al Roker's show. They did not over-hype and stayed true to the message. Best of all, they did not spend too much time rerunning the spectacular footage from Tuscaloosa and Birmingham but, instead and as is proper, kept the focus on those that remained in danger.

As for Dr. Greg Forbes, he has been on the absolute top of his game through this whole month. I have no doubt whatsoever that his main professor at the University of Chicago, none other than Dr. Ted Fujita, would be extremely proud if he was still with us today.

While TWC might very quickly fall back into some of its bad habits and continue to broadcast some programs that are just plain horrible, as I tweeted late last night, they deserve an Emmy for their television coverage of this outbreak; especially for Forbes and Jim Cantore out in the field. I would now add that they probably also deserve a Webby for everything they did online.

glenc1 said...

KoSoHo...personally I am not a real fan of storm chasing period, other than their ability to report locations. But you can tell watching that there are people who actually know what they are doing, and hacks, who are just adrenaline junkies or something (like balloon boy's dad...) So I tend not to watch much of it--but this was so much more professional than that. I was thinking the same; I would nominate them for an Emmy. Tuesday night they were also doing a good job, just wasn't as devastating, fortunately.

I know about the 'disaster porn' criticism...but surely they proved last night they don't need to do that. Just tell the story as it unfolds (like we are always saying on race coverage.) I think the truth is, these guys really just love the weather, and they seem to go with the flow of what their network wants, even if it's wrong. I watch the hurricane coverage because of relatives, but it's true they overdo it, drawing it out too long.

But I would disagree that it didn't warrant a 'break in' over the royal wedding or other entertainment stuff, at least at the point it was clear how bad it was (I didn't turn over til later, myself). I have seen some other criticism on the Web; we are not the only ones unhappy.

boyd said...

Just a note to my Planeteer friends.

I've located all my relatives in the three states and they're okay.

My cousin in Tuscaloosa was in her third floor apartment with her Bama football helmet on with pillow over her as the storm roared by. Her building was not touched, but the one across the street was gone. One of her friends lost everything, and another girl was trapped in rubble for three hours, and was taken to Birmingham with severe injuries, and may be paralyzed.

Thanks for the well wishes everyone.

w17scott said...

Thanks to all stations in the Roanoke (VA) area broke away from network programming throughout the evening. Up-to-the-moment information was provided on impact of storms and tracks of potential tornadoes in Southwest, Southside and Central Virginia ...sorry to learn of loss of life in the area, but stations did their part to provide current information and put reporters on-the-ground on scene, no doubt saving lives in the process

The Varsity Planet said...

Vince, You said it very well!!!

News back in the old days was just what it was...news. The Three you mentioned Cronkite, Brinkley and Huntley, did an excellent job of covering events, particularly the JFK assassination.

Now you got a bunch of stiffs who always like to stir up controversy. Bill O'Reilly is a pompus conservative windbag who needs to stay light years away from TV and Radio.

Rupert Murdoch turned media for the worse and rather than people ignoring it people still view it and things will never go back to the way it used to be.

Money not morals rules TV.

As for the tragic tornado, so sad that except for local news they have no national coverage, so sad. You would think people nationwide have family that live in that area and would want to know how things are.

I feel sorry for that area in the south who has been hit by the tornado, and that area you are refering to is not really tornado prone.

Kelli Sheffler said...

Thank you for this blog. I am an Atlanta resident, but am out of town on business. I have friends & family in Birmingham, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa and other surrounding towns. I went to college in Rome, GA and have friends all over North GA.

Needless to say, I wanted news last night. I was so disappointed to not be able to find any coverage via TV. My hotel doesn't have TWC. I flipped to CNN to find Anderson Cooper and friends discussing what he would be wearing to the royal wedding. Seemed a little trivial. He did come on later and talk about it, but then that was repeated with old info. Fox didn't have anything either.

I noticed that Fox had much better coverage this morning, but that didn't make me forget last night.

Thank goodness for the Internet and twitter. And excellent social media presence from The Weather Channel.

Steve L. said...

I too had non-stop coverage from WBIR in Knoxville, TN. They didn't even stop for commercials and were on from 2 pm until 1 am. They said they would not go off the air until there were no more severe watches or warnings left in their viewing area.
They did an excellent job and I felt like they were out for our safety. No need to look anywhere else for coverage.
Prayers go out to all who lost loved ones or had property damage.

Bobby said...

TWC is a Comcast channel (a sister channel to MSNBC/CNBC/Versus) and I wonder if they pointed it out on the "tickers" or if any of the news channels made mention of the crisis at the top/bottom updates.

Here in South Carolina, the Alabama State Retirement System owns the top stations in most parkets (GSP excluded) so the storms were well-covered.

If the news stations could pull a Talladega Caution to break from the reports to show the live news crisis, then that would have been proper. On 9/11, the WTC homicide attacks were almost instanteously covered. Why not this? Too many people watching their hit TV shows at the time . . .

Andy Marquis said...

MSNBC had wall to wall coverage this morning.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Thank you for all your wonderful comments on this topic.

PammH said...

I had NO clue that the broadcast/cable networks weren't covering the storms in the south, because I instantly tuned to TWC for coverage. It's shocking to say the least, imo. TWC has strayed for sure from what it first was, but they were OUTSTANDING last nite! I couldn't turn it off! Kudos to all the staff!!!!

Vicky D said...

I guess with the big wedding tomorrow, all the channels have more people in London than in the South. My prayers are with the folks who are affected by these tornadoes.

Tuddley3 said...

Normally FNC is the best and most reliable news source, but they continue to have the evening shows such as The Factor and Red Eye. I would prefer they have more shows like The Fox Report 24 hours, instead of these stupid shows that are basically people arguing endlessly for the entire hour. I will still keep FNC as my favorite news source, but they could do a little remodeling.

So whenever the "arguing shows" ignore immediate breaking news, I turn to LiveStream for live coverage.

Andy Marquis said...

Cable news in a nutshell today: "Blah blah Royal blah Wedding blah of the blah blah century blah blah blah blah blah in other news, 300 people are dead as a result of Wednesday's tornado outbreak now back to royal wedding coverage"

Anonymous said...

The golden age of television news was the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's. ABC, NBC, and CBS maintained large news organizations as a matter of public service and great pride. The news divisions were not expected to be profit-making parts of the business. They competed head to head and maintained high standards of journalism in the pursuit of hard news and investigative reporting. They often preempted regular programming with breaking news stories even when the majority of people preferred the regular programs.

The 1980's brought cable TV, more alternatives, and financial pressures on the old big three networks. Network leaders decided every division had to turn a profit on its own, including the news divisions. Many people were let go and field bureaus were closed. While news professionals warned about the degrading of the news as a whole, I heard no complaints from the public.

Advocates of the new order claimed the proliferation of news sources on cable would result in more competition and more diverse views. It sounded good, but it hasn't worked out that way. Cable (and now internet as well) news organizations have no sense of public obligation, service, or responsibility. They are driven by profit motives in the struggle to survive and prosper.

Fox News showed the rest how to do it. They demonstrated that they could capture conservative viewers by never telling them anything that might upset them. Everything was slanted to reinforce the views their audience already held. Other channels followed suit by attempting to identify and capture their own segment of the market. Any strategy that helps make a profit is fair game.

The internet has further degraded whatever standards remain in journalism. Whether the provider is Drudge or some lesser known source, people seem eager to believe a blogger regardless of past performance. Blunders and major mistakes are soon forgotten in the constant search for dirt and speed.

I recently read that a substantial number of young people consider John Stewart and Stephen Colbert to be principal sources for news. I weep for such people.

The large majority of the American public have shown that they have no objection to profit-driven news organizations. They have also demonstrated that they prefer the news slanted towards their own political views. Many have demonstrated willful ignorance.

A quote of uncertain origin, but often attributed to Alexis de Toqueville, states: "In a democracy, people get the government they deserve." The same can be said of a free society driven by the profit motive when it comes to news: "People get the news they deserve."

KoHoSo said...

@ Anonymous 2:30...

I stand and applaud this excellent comment.

drpep said...

I gave up on cable news shortly after 9/11. I gave up because graphics, scrolls, reporter headshots and breaking news banners hours after the news broke all combined to ruin the picture. I now get my TV news from one of the 6:30 nightly shows.