If you want some good news on this morning when most of us can’t get out our back doors for all the snow, here it is: Local TV in Baltimore appears to have grown up and has been mainly doing a solid job with a nasty weather story.
Maybe it’s all the serious stories we’ve been covering lately, like the death of Freddie Gray and the soaring homicide rate, but gone are the goofball antics by reporters and anchors who thought they were the story. At least, I haven't seen any so far.
I started channel hopping in earnest about 3:30 p.m. Friday as the first flakes started to fly and I did not see one major on-air incidence of silliness. I also did not hear as much a sense of self-importance from anchors and reporters, lecturing their viewers about how to behave and acting as if they, the local TV reporters and anchors, were “essential personnel,” like emergency room medical personnel and public safety workers.
What I did see was far more professionalism and a sense of public service – news operations showing an understanding of the journalists’ role in situations like blizzards. As it is every day, the role of the journalist is to give citizens reliable, vetted, accurate information that they can use to make good decisions about their lives. In a weather event like this, it can literally be life and death.
And so, yesterday, I saw stations fanning out across the region to get information from elected officials, medical personnel and public safety officials. They camped out at the city command center on Calvert Street across from the Sun and at MEMA and at the headquarters of the big counties. And they were there with microphones, cameras and live reports when the people who are trained to handle weather tried to tell citizens what to do.
And they stayed on the air. WBAL, WJZ, WMAR and WBFF all pre-empted one or more regularly scheduled network or syndicated shows during the early evening news hours. And they didn’t just fill with two anchors sitting at a desk talking how much they hated shoveling snow or loved their four-wheel drive vehicles.
And all four are offering the same kind of coverage online while going mostly using social media to engage with viewers and give them the chance to share their thoughts, feelings and images of the storm. (I am not too crazy about the video I saw last night of a dog being forced to pull a sled with a little kid on it, but that’s probably just me: I like dogs a lot more than kids.)
The weather information itself has been mostly on the money as well – right down to practically the minutes on when the snow would arrive. Maybe that’s just the latest technology making the people who are giving us the information look better, but there was a sense of seriousness and purpose in the weathercasts that had been lacking at some stations in the past.
At this point, I am not going to rank one station against another. They are all doing some good work, and that matters more than anything else at this point in the storm.
If you must have a comparison, here’s one: I also watched a lot of CNN, which is generally very good on this kind of weather event. And while the “Roving Cam” it had in Arlington, Virginia, at 3:40 p.m. Friday struck me as a silly bit of TV branding, it did nothing seriously wrong in its coverage.
But for all its vast resources, CNN also did nothing better than Baltimore TV so far in covering the storm.
Let's hope the Baltimore stations keep it up and don't start getting punchy after a lot of time on the air. I am starting to sense some creep in that direction this morning in the coverage, and I have two words of advice: Stop it.
This story is too big for a small-market, ain't-we-clever-and-cute approach to covering it. Spare us the snowballs, snow angels and stupid-talk. Cover the story like our safety and lives depended on it.
If you see something great or foolish in snow coverage, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.