Saturday, September 04, 2004

We Interrupt This Broadcast

I was all set to go to a movie this weekend, but I decided to stay home and watch CNN's coverage of Hurricane Frances instead. I didn't learn more than I would have gleaned from a six-minute surf through the major online news and weather resources, but the spectacle of a 24-hour news channel trying to fill airtime with a Big Weather Story was too good to ignore.

It's not that this hurricane is any different than any other hurricane that's come before it. The cable network - the only American all-news outfit we get in this part of Canada because Fox News has been banned at the border - never fails to trot out the same tired tricks of the trade whenever bad weather rolls into town. Here's a quick look at the cast of characters:

REPORTER-DOING-STANDUP-OUTSIDE: Camera shows a barely-visible journalist in the middle of an abandoned street. While wrestling with his microphone, he struggles to remain vertical while gusting winds alternately paste his soaked raincoat to his head and puff up the sleeves and make him look like a little Michelin Man. All the while, he struggles to fill a whole lot of airtime with interesting tidbits about the storm. "As you can see, I'm having a very hard time standing in one place because hurricanes pack really, really strong winds." Right, I wouldn't have known that otherwise. He also taught me that hurricanes bring lots and lots of rain. Yes, I feel so enlightened now.

OVEREXCITED-WEATHER-ANCHOR-IN-STUDIO: Her usually perky voice has been driven up an octave or two thanks to a backstage shot of adrenalin. She speaks so fast that you need to use the slow-mo on your TiVo to follow what she's saying. She stands in front of impossibly complex full-screen radar maps of the region and endlessly repeats the same mantra about the eye wall, the storm surge, the big second punch, and any other hurricane-related term that she just memorized from her Big Book of Big Weather Tidbits. She breathlesslessly introduces the now-branded weather technology toys - this time, it's a gadget called "VIPIR", and, no, I don't know or care what that stands for - and zooms up and down the coast trying to explain all the bright colors to us morons with the good sense to live anywhere but Florida. When she finally pauses long enough to take a breath, the floor director senses the audience's general wish that she would quickly relocate to Fiji and finally cuts in with a Maalox commercial.

THE-SMARMY-NEWS-ANCHOR: She tells the on-the-scene reporters (see above) to "be safe" and "stay inside because getting the story just isn't worth getting hurt" but then laughs manically when said reporter stupidly goes outside for a standup anyway. "Wow, did you see how those trees are bending sideways? Gee, it must be getting bad out there. Hey, Gary, watch out for flying debris, will ya?" Every once in a while, she'll chuckle nervously in a vain attempt to diffuse the tension. Of course, she's hundreds of miles away from the storm, so she can afford to do whatever the heck she wants. Classic office-chair-journalism. Outside-reporter-man mumbles the occasional profane comment under his breath. Lucky or him and his agent, the wind drowns out his true thoughts.

It's so cheesy that it's funny. Which, in a way, is sad, because it undermines the seriousness of the story, and the real tragedies that are unfolding as these bozos struggle to keep our waning attention.


Amelia said...

Yes, it's funny to see how TV channels obsess over major events and manage to provide 24hour coverage whilst providing no real 'new' information!

carmilevy said...

I think some of them just like going outside to play in the water. They remind me of myself on a snow day (I grew up in wintry Montreal). On those days, my voice would always go up a bit as I got excited at the prospect of either staying home from school or, even better, having the school shut down while we were still there.

I think CNN's reporters, in particular, were reliving some moments like those when the storm was rolling through.

Diane said...

It's obvious that they live for these types of events. The Weather Channel counts on stuff like this to boost its ratings. Hurricane season is its evquivalent of "Sweeps Week". And another thing about The Weather Channel. Has anyone else ever noticed that their weather girls (ladies?) are nearly always pregnant? Or is it just my imagination?