I just need to vent.
I am a retired TV news producer. I didn't retire because I reached a certain age; I retired because I couldn't take the bullshit anymore. The final straw was the deplorable way the Valujet tragedy was handled in the mid-90s. Well, it should have been the final straw, except I held on as a news free-lancer for an additional three years after leaving my job and career. Today, while watching the coverage of Hurricane Ivan's damage, I remembered something that happened in our Miami newsroom on August 24, 1992.
We had all kinds of crews in place for Hurricane Andrew. Our reporters and cameramen were doing an excellent job as the arrival of the category five hurricane drew near. By morning, the storm had passed and many in our newsroom were breathing sighs of relief. Miami Beach? No damage! Ft. Lauderdale? No damage! Hollywood? Looking good. The conclusion: Andrew's bark was worse than its bite. South Florida had dodged a bullet! And then... the calls came in.
Homestead. Country Walk. Florida City. Every building damaged or destroyed.
I was one of those yelling out that we need to move our crews. "COUNTRY WALK! WE NEED TO GO TO COUNTRY WALK!" I don't know who it was that insisted we stay put. "People need to know Miami Beach is okay. They need to know Ft. Lauderdale is okay." That was what we were told, but here was the real key: our crews were in place. We were live. We had airtime to fill. On and on and on.
"COUNTRY WALK. WE NEED TO GO TO COUNTRY WALK."
WE LET CONVENIENCE GET IN THE WAY OF TELLING THE STORY! Fortunately, with all the calls we were receiving, the geniuses realized we HAD to move our crews south, and get everything in place for the noon newscast, which I was producing. From that moment on, we were fine. But it took too long. Way too long.
And so it was again today, Thursday, September 16, 2004, after Hurricane Ivan's biggest core of destruction passed over the Pensacola area.
Ten hours later (ten hours!), local and national newscasts were STILL leading their shows with their reporters in Mobile, Alabama, which had largely been spared... followed by their reporters in New Orleans (which everybody knew the night before would be spared the worst effects, which are to the north and east of the eyewall).
So while we're hearing all of the same old "dodged a bullet" cliches, and suffering through the countless replaying of reporters vamping it up during every gust of wind, we're not learning how Pensacola Beach was cut off due to bridges being blown out. Nothing about every hospital in the city being damaged. Oh, but there is that Anderson whatever-his-name-is guy getting his pretty hair blown in the wind again. By this point I'm having MY issues. After spending the better part of two decades in newsrooms, I'm allowed to have my issues. I think I've earned them.
So how did I know what was happening in Pensacola? I'm a journalist. It wasn't hard to get that information. I'm sure there were many TV news producers who had some of that same information, but you know what? All that money was spent sending big-name reporters to Mobile and New Orleans, so that leads the show, damn it!
I think TV news did an excellent job, pre-storm, with Ivan, Charley, and Frances. That's what they do well -- coming up with a program, and sticking to it. It's when changes to that program need to be made, and some producer is waiting for some middle manager to approve it (while that middle manager is waiting for some big shot manager, who is waiting to hear back from THEIR boss) that the quagmire that is TV news digs itself deeper into its own putrid quicksand.
Tonight we should take a moment to think of the folks whose lives have been turned upside down by this, and the other hurricanes. They're what's important, not "branding" or "show biz". TV news still doesn't get it.
"Tough times never last. Tough people do."