Following Hurricane Katrina, there was a lot of talk about television reporters becoming part of the stories they cover -- expressing too much emotion, editorializing, intervening. After watching this morning's coverage of Hurricane Wilma, television reporters seemed to be returning to more familiar roles in the hurricane story: potential victims.
On CBS's "The Early Show," Trish Regan reported from Key Largo, Florida, where it appeared quite likely that she might be picked up and promptly deposited in the raging sea behind her by the "hurricane-force winds and sideways rain" that she described as she stood near the edge of a pier. She struggled to remain upright, and the satellite feed struggled to catch all of her words as she spoke with anchor, Rene Syler.
"You can see for yourself, Hurricane Wilma has arrived … I'm being hit by hurricane force winds and sideways rain," Regan shouted.
Wilma Hits Florida Keys
At around 8:30, ABC's "Good Morning America" had Bob Woodruff reporting live, also struggling to stand upright, from what appeared to be the right lane of a highway in Naples, Florida.
"Robin, this is the real deal right now. We're really getting slammed. We've got gusts of over 50 miles per hour," said Woodruff.
Just as I began to wonder when the roof of a building would fly off and hit Woodruff in the head, he filled me in. "Just about five minutes ago, the roof of this center completely ripped off," said Woodruff, as the camera panned to a now roof-defunct building. I was less intrigued by the fact that the wind was strong enough to tear a roof from a building than I was relieved that Woodruff was not impaled by flying debris.
Finally, Woodruff seemed to come to his senses. "I think it's time to go in for some shelter, we're getting debris down the road ... It's really starting to hit."
"Do get some shelter there," said anchor Robin Roberts in New York.
Yes! Do get some shelter!
Alas, about a half hour later, when "GMA" was long off the air, Woodruff seemed a far cry from shelter as he made a brief appearance for a live two-way with "Regis & Kelly," where host Kelly Ripa's mouth remained fully agape as Woodruff reported from what appeared to be the same location, describing the palm trees along the highway as "collapsing like toothpicks."
Ripa was, oddly, the voice of reason in all of this, as she seemed to beg Woodruff to get the hell out of there. "Hope you can hang in there, Bob," she said. "Please be careful." She repeated it again when Woodruff's earpiece didn't catch the first bit, "Please try not to blow away, Bob," she said.
The impending doom for reporters seemed to culminate on the "Today" Show, as Al Roker reported live from a hotel balcony in Naples. "It is brutal out here," Roker shouted during a two-way with anchors Katie Couric and Matt Lauer in New York, struggling to stand amid the wind and the rain and continually re-plugging his earpiece as the winds appeared to forcibly remove it. Roker then invited the cameraman to pan out so viewers could observe that the weatherman was anchored to the floor by another cameraman, who had attached himself to Roker's ankles. Indeed, the setup proved ill-conceived.
"You know, Matt," Roker explained to Lauer in New York, "our truck operator, Tom, said, 'Don't you wish you had your weight back?' Right about now I do," shouted Roker.
No sooner than the words escaped him, Roker went down with a thud.
"Oh!" exclaimed Katie and Matt. "Are you okay??"
"We're okay. We're okay," Roker responded, as a third crew member entered the shot to assist them. "We're coming inside."
"Yeah. Do that, Al," said Katie, then assuring viewers that Al was "fine."
Hurricanes are, by nature, exciting and they are important, sometimes enormously so. Reporters should be in place to cover the events and their aftermath. It is by all means commendable that they are willing to risk their safety to report such stories -- and they probably don't deserve this kind of nitpicking from some snotty kid like me. But really, as a viewer, the overwhelming sense from watching footage like this doesn't seem to be interest in the storm itself, but instead, a very real sense of concern for the reporter and certainly a lot of confusion about why it is necessary for them to be standing, quite literally, in the eye of the storm.
I don't quite see the informational value in placing a reporter in harm's way simply for the sake of describing just how powerful the hurricane winds are. It seems to exist only for dramatic effect. Al Roker did not need to be on a balcony to report the story, but having him there, with a cameraman anchored to his legs, certainly entices viewers. And in this case, he actually was nearly injured by the hurricane, creating a gimmick that MSNBC latched right on to, repeating the clip of Roker's fall throughout the morning.
The entire episode seemed all the more unnecessary when Roker checked in with the anchors in New York in a later "Today" segment, this time from the inside of his hotel room, as the storm played out in the background through the hotel window. He was still reporting the same information, and the wrath of the storm was still quite evident through the window. The main difference for me was that I no longer feared I would witness the death of Al Roker live on the "Today" Show.
Even Couric seemed relieved, "Al, glad to know that you have the good sense to come in out of the rain. It's pretty rough out there, isn't it?" she said.
Then Roker's earpiece went out. Again.