When a big snowstorm shows up on the radar of your local meteorologist, who somehow
manages to keep his job despite hitting on only about 28 percent of his forecasts, it becomes
like the Super Bowl, Olympics, and World Series all wrapped into one for television stations
across the country.
"Severe" weather is what news directors and executive producers live for. Mother Nature
spawns an event that allows your local anchors to use big phrases like "team coverage",
"exclusive video", and "up-to-the-second information."
I always thought it was quite amazing that all these stations in snow belts act like they are
seeing snow for the very first time, even though it happens every year during December,
January, and February going back to, well, the damn Ice Age!
Having worked in television covering sports for nearly 20 years, I must admit, I didn't pay
a lot of attention to all the chaos that goes with covering winter storms, after all, I was always
trying to make deadlines of mine own while enjoying a world where I covered professional
and college sports and got paid to do it. Covering a snowfall? B-O-R-I-N-G!
However, when I got into the news side of things and was assigned to cover BIG events
(wink, wink) like snowstorms, I discovered a whole new world, one that often had me
saying to myself, seriously?
These news directors would get so gung ho they'd often fall all over themselves. Many times
I'd have to break out my best Allen Iverson because I was so incredulous and I'd re-create
his famous press conference where he said, "Man, we're not talking about a game, but practice.
No, not a game, but practice."
Members of management at some places act like a snowstorm is a tsunami that is about
to put their county underwater forever. They'd be booking hotels for three nights for
all their on-air personnel and make enough pizza orders to satisfy the state of Louisiana.
And I'd go all Allen Iverson. "We're not talking about the ebola virus breaking out in
your local supermarket, but snow falling. No, no, no. We're not talking about poisoned
water in Flint, Michigan. We are talking about....snow falling."
Now, I do know snow can affect a lot of things: roads, work, travel, schools, etc. But come
on! These stations just love to exaggerate things a bit. But it's television and it's how
you tilt the ratings and everybody in the business knows it.
I had the opportunity to cover my share of snowstorms over the past few years. I'd get in
at 4:30 a.m. and travel around the county giving updates every twenty minutes until noon.
With sleet and snow pelting my face and my lips nearly frozen shut, I sometimes found
it quite a challenge to come up with different ways to describe snow, because after all,
it's just snow.
"Yes, Tom, as you can see, it's really come down hard right about now." I always thought
it was kind of funny reporting on the things that viewers can clearly see for themselves. I
often wondered how many times viewers at home would be saying, "Yeah, we know
it's snowing outside. We can see that knucklehead."
It's funny seeing all these local reporters asking local people who've lived locally all their
lives what they think about the snow when they've seen it over and over and over again every
year at this time. Good, grief and I was one of those reporters! Help me. Better yet, shoot me!
In the past few years, these local stations have stepped things up and gone high-tech. Some
of them actually have put cameras inside their news vehicles to allow viewers to see how
things are inside the car and what the roads are like outside. I got to experience this last year,
and I must admit, the first few times were pretty cool. The next 273 updates you had to do
over the course of three days? Um, not so much.
And it's not exactly all that high-tech, either. The camera makes you look like you're doing a
report from inside a tuna can and when I had to wear that big news parka jacket, I kind of looked
like, well, the Stay-Puff marshmallow man. Yeah, I'd finish a report and I'd get a text on
my cell from a friend that said, "Dude, good job but lay off the Oreo cookies. Have a few,
just don't eat the entire bag." I got texts that I said, "Hey, man, are you going to play Shrek in
the sequel?" That's cool. Very funny. I loved it.
Invariably, there would always be that jacked up show producer who thought the viewers
would miss out on the snow covered roads if you didn't show those snow covered
roads immediately. They'd yell in your ear, "Flip the switch to the car-cam now!", as if they
were about to miss the triple-lindy the orangutan that sits atop President Trump's head
was going to perform it on live television.
We're talking about snow falling.....
A few times when the BIG snowstorms that had been forecasted by these weather guys
turned into the big fail, the news directors would make my photographer and I drive around the county until noon giving updates after the snow had long stopped. The common sense thing to do
would be to pack it in and cover a more compelling story, but no, they'd leave us out on the
roads and come to us every 20 minutes for an update.
"Yes, Tom, as you can see, the roads are perfect. It doesn't look like it even snowed. These
roads are as clear as crystal and as dry as mouth full of cotton. Back to you, Tom." Yep,
and those people at home were wondering what the hell we were doing out there, too.
often racing from one town to the next on roads you'd never travel on if you didn't have to. Management doesn't really care about employee safety but they always expect you to make slot.
I'd often feel bad for the photographers who have to get out in the snowstorm to carry cables
with fingers they couldn't feel, and set up live shots in two feet of snow. Yeah, it sucks.
But as a reporter, I'd get out there and have some fun with it, because after all. we're talking
about a snowstorm, not digging ditches or laying asphalt. We're talking about talking about
snow in a snowstorm. Yeah, it's pretty ridiculous. but there are worse things to do, I reckon.