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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 18, 2017

Heroes or sensationalists?

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant New | Sep 15, 2017

On Sunday afternoon, while sitting in the lobby of an auto service shop waiting for the mechanic to tell me how many hundreds of dollars he was going to charge me to fix my car, I watched with gaping mouth as a reporter on MSNBC was hit by a flying object on air while standing in the middle of Hurricane Irma.

Meteorologist for The Weather Channel, Mike Seidel, was literally being blown away from the camera crew who was filming, trying to gain his balance as he walked almost vertical to the ground. Even when hit with debris, Seidel didn’t lose his train of thought as he continued updating viewers of Hurricane Irma’s destruction.

Seidel wasn’t the only reporter during the two hurricanes this past month to be in deep water. MSNBC correspondent Mariana Atencio stood among fallen trees as wind continued to rage. NBC News correspondent Miguel Almaguer harnessed himself to a building as he gave a live report from Florida. CNN Correspondent Bill Weir reported live in swirling knee-high water.

Viewers took to social media, criticizing the broadcast networks for their “sensationalized” reporting.

“Using their logic, if they were reporting on gun violence, would they volunteer to get shot? This is all about ratings,” one tweet read.

“Absolutely unnecessary. I find crazy weather exhilarating and alluring, but standing outside for extended periods to “report” — absurd,” another tweeted.

Whether journalists should place themselves in potentially dangerous situations to report the news is not a new debate. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, The Huffington Post wrote that media coverage is “somewhat of a sport for network reporters.” A BBC reporter is yelling above 50 mile per hour winds to report during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Ironically, while visiting Texas after Hurricane Harvey, President Donald Trump slammed the media for not going into those winds.

“I hear the Coast Guard saved 11,000 people,” the President said live on ABC News. “Think of it: almost 11,000 people by going into winds that the media would not go into. They will not go into those winds. Unless it’s a really good story, in which case they will.”

While it is the Coast Guard’s job to aid in times of crisis to be in the danger zones rescuing people, it is the media’s job to be on the scene as well, reporting on those danger zones and rescue efforts.

Even so, that didn’t stop reporters themselves from being the face of the news.

A CNN crew rescued a man from his truck in flooded Beaumont, Texas, Business Insider reported.

Houston’s own KHOU 11 News stayed on air during Harvey even as their station headquarters began to flood, the Washington Post reported. After they evacuated the station, they spotted a semi-trailer truck driver trapped in the floodwaters. The crew ensured the man was helped and reported live as he was rescued from his truck.

“Sometimes we get flak because, yes, we are out in it,” KHOU reporter Brandi Smith said. “We are doing the things we tell you not to do. We do it so that we can show you how bad the conditions are so you do not attempt them.”

So yes, while the Coast Guard is physically saving lives, reporters are on the scene to give the public perspective of how dangerous conditions really are. And although some argue that it undercuts their message to stand in waist-deep water while warning people to get out, I argue that live broadcasts are also a vital part of saving lives.

“Why would you have reporters standing potentially in harm’s way who are telling people to do exactly the opposite?” The New York Times reported CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann as saying. “Part of that is that television is all about visual proof … if they can see me standing out there getting knocked around, it’ll convince them that they should not do the same thing.”

In my book, that makes the journalists covering natural disasters their own kind of heroes.

On an unrelated note, if anyone is looking to get rid of a vehicle, I might be on the market for a new car.

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