Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to combat local media overcoverage of minor weather events

The Houston region got its first taste of this year’s hurricane season yesterday, as Tropical Storm Bill made landfall. While any tropical weather event is to be taken seriously – there was legitimate concern that ground still saturated from recent storms might not be able to handle Bill’s rainfall – the storm’s actual effects turned out to be rather mild.

That didn’t stop the local television news media from milking Bill for all it was worth. If they were able to generate this much hype for a relatively minor tropical storm, I shudder to think what they’ll come up with when an actual category-three hurricane approaches later this summer.

Was the wall-to-wall coverage of this storm silly, excessive and unnecessary? Of course it was. Did KPRC really need to pre-empt Jimmy Fallon on Monday night to bring us inane and repetitive “team coverage” of people sitting in front of computers at Houston Transtar or bemused tourists on Galveston Island? Not really. Did KHOU really have to bring Dr. Neil Frank out of retirement to answer stupid questions about evacuations or send reporters to interview people riding the Bolivar Ferry? No.

But they did it anyway. This is what the local media does every time a tropical cyclone approaches. I’ve written about this before. They can’t help themselves; hurricanes are the raison d’etre of the local TV news.

The local media’s over-hype of storms like Bill is stupid, annoying and potentially lethal in that it desensitizes people to much more serious events that might occur later in the hurricane season. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to combat it: just quit watching their ridiculous coverage of the storm.

That’s it. Turn off the TV.

Let them know that you don’t care about the wanna-be surfers who went down to Galveston to take advantage of the slightly-higher-than-normal waves.

Let them know that you that, while you're glad that the emergency operations folks in Brazoria County will have a place to sleep tonight, the number cots people have brought in is of no concern to you.

Let them know that you think it’s stupid that they actually interviewed a grocery store manager regarding people buying all his drinking water. (Drinking water that people went out and hoarded because the local news media’s shrill coverage of this event spooked them, no doubt…)

Let them know that you don’t give a flip about the old toothless guy near Rollover Pass has decided not to evacuate.

Let them know that you don’t want to see “viewer pictures and videos” of the storm.

Let them know that that you will not participate in the deification of the meteorologists that occurs every time these storms approach.

Let them know these things by not watching. Turn off the TV. Get your updates from the National Weather Service’s website, or Eric Berger’s blog.

When the local TV producers see their ratings drop, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll get the message. They’ll realize that people are sick and tired of their ridiculous, panicky, overblown coverage of these storm events and begin treating them with the sane, level-headed and useful coverage they really deserve.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the deadly catastrophe that was the Rita Evacuation – an event driven almost entirely by local media hyperbole – we need to get the message to the local TV news that we don’t appreciate their unhelpful, unnecessary and embarrassing sensationalism.

We can do that by not watching.

John Nova Lomax's take on the hype is a must-read.

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