It was raining in Manhattan on Sunday morning, and the dogged correspondents in their brightly colored windbreakers were getting wet.
But the apocalypse that cable television had been trumpeting had failed to materialize. And at 9 a.m., you could almost hear the air come out of the mediaâ€™s hot-air balloon of constant coverage when Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm.
I don’t know how bad it was outside of the greater New York media market, but if I never again see some reporter in a rain slicker pointing out to sea and saying, look at those waves, I’ll be happy.
It wasn’t so much that there was inane coverage of nothing for hour after hour. It was that there was inane coverage of nothing on nearly every channel for hour after hour. Except for the premium channels, nearly every channel had suspended regular programming and was covering the storm that wasn’t happening.
I don’t blame authorities for warning the public to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. But by Saturday morning all the news stories said the storm would be no more than category 1, if that, when it got to New York. The news managers should have known there wouldn’t be enough happening to justify round-the-clock live reporting.
It would have made sense to have some news crews standing by in high-risk areas in case something happened. Then while nothing much was happening they could have stuck to the usual August weekend programing of crime show re-runs and used a news crawl at the bottom of the screen to keep viewers apprised of new developments. But no, they had to do round the clock live reporting, even when there was nothing to report.
So by this morning the CBS affiliate was reduced to repeatedly showing us some sand and small debris that had washed up on the Asbury Park boardwalk. It was bad enough to see this once. But the studio anchors kept going back to the reporter at Asbury Park, who once again would show us the sand on the boardwalk with as much excitement as if she had found signs of a space alien landing.
On the other hand, if you had wanted to know the likelihood of flooding in your neighborhood — good luck.
Update: Brad Friedman of The Brad Blog makes the point that Irene really was a significant storm that caused significant destruction in some places. But if anything this underscores the inanity of the hurricane news coverage. By giving so much time to their live, brain-numbing, “on the spot” coverage of relatively insignificant storm activity, television news missed real stories.
For example, this morning I learned that there was some nasty flooding in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan, which is on the west side, near the Hudson River, around 13th Street. Yesterday the live news teams were all several blocks south, anxiously covering the damp sidewalks in Battery Park.
Of course, the real problem is that anything happening outside of New York City was being ignored by the A-list news teams. Perhaps local and national news was covering it, but New York City television was oblivious to yesterday’s record floods in Pennsylvania and Vermont.