Still work to be done by Baltimore TV on morning after storm

TV offers key information and sense of community for some.

Local TV is often criticized for staying on the air too long with rolling coverage after a major news event and repeating itself over and over and over again. And there was some of that Sunday morning to be sure – that and a lot of annoying on-air self-congratulations for coverage from anchors to reporters, whether it was deserved or not.

But from Archbishop Lori telling Catholics they don’t have to go to Mass, to BGE urging residents to clean the snow off vents on their houses, Baltimore TV was also still bringing useful information to viewers on the morning after this record snowstorm.

At another level, I am also sure it was providing a sense of shared experience and even community for some housebound viewers not particularly wired into social media. And I suspect some of those were among the residents who felt most threatened by this storm.

WJZ’s interview with Archbishop William E. Lori was fascinating. After he reported on the phone what the streets around his rectory looked like, he told WJZ: “Because of the extreme inclement weather,” it is OK “for Catholics not to attend Mass on this particular Sunday.”

He offered alternatives from the ETWN website, to local churches that might be streaming services, a reminder how deeply media are entwined with even our religious lives. But I suspect what mattered most to some devout Catholics was hearing the voice of their religious leader telling them it was OK to miss the weekly service.

Bringing the words of warning from BGE for those using natural gas was valuable as well.  As I heard them on TV, I punched up BGE’s website, and I could not find them there. So, TV was sending an important message from BGE to hundreds of thousands of viewers instantly – and it was not merely duplicating what was available on the Web.

While all four major TV news operations – WJZ, WBAL, WBFF and WMAR – were on the air bright and early Sunday morning, there were differences among them.

The most striking came in the 10 a.m. hour when the Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other public safety officials held a news conference.

WJZ and WBFF carried most of it. WBAL went to “Meet the Press” with NBC’s Chuck Todd, while WMAR featured dashboard cam looks at area roads during part of it. I am not a big fan of dashboard cam, because it often gives such a narrow, tunnel-like snapshot of conditions.

I think the best call was in covering the news conference. Again, there is nothing more important than getting information from public safety officials to viewers in a situation like this – especially when there is an opportunity to ask questions of them.

I am not recommending we take what they say as gospel. If there is reason to suspect they are not doing a good job, get after them with all you’ve got. But you also need to let your viewers hear what they say about who should or should not be on the roads and how best to behave in hopes of not getting stranded or injured.

One of the most interesting interviews on Baltimore TV Sunday morning was with Harford County Executive Barry Glassman who talked about a new app his team is offering that shows viewers a grid of the side streets color-coded on the basis of which have been plowed.

While some analysts act as if one technology instantly replaces another, making the older one obsolete, the truth is new and older media always exist side by side for a period of time, with the new one mimicking the old one. Think of how early TV was filled with what had been radio variety shows – or how the early Web imitated print newspaper design.

Local TV informing viewers about this new app that might help them find out if and when their street is going to get plowed was a nuts-and-bolts, information-you-can-use illustration of that on Sunday morning.

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