In the next 24 hours, Tropical Storm Barry is expected to exit the gulf and likely headed right at my little slice of heaven. Now, this is not so bad, winds are not expected to be above tropical storm force in my town, and I just put a 120 mile an hour roof on the house. Still, it is time to prepare.
It is worth remembering the role of the media on a day like today. Television and radio broadcasters were licensed to use the valuable electromagnetic spectrum in exchange for reasonable public service. In particular, commercial broadcasters were given the duty to inform the public of important local events – like a hurricane or a gumbo cookoff. This weekend we have both.
The problem is that in the last 20-30 years, cable casters and now streaming services are filling the profitable entertainment role but not the public service role. On a day like this, Louisiana broadcasters are struggling to inform the public about the important information of the day. Large areas of the state may have a foot of rain over the next several days even though it looks like typical June day (mostly sunny, 88 degrees, feels like 100). People are thinking about the need to evacuate, hoard clean water, possibly board windows, and locate sandbags. The local media is filling this role at its expense and with the professionalism of staff kept just for this job. It is their most important duty.
In the meantime, many are watching CNN, or Netflix, or YouTube. It is OK, I got the alert on my cell phone. Well, that may not provide the information I need or the context I deserve. I check into my local broadcaster, KATC or KLFY and get the information I really need.
Social media, for its part, are streaming video of street flooding in the New Orleans French Quarter, wondering if that Gumbo Cook-off will be canceled, and arguing over the Nike flag shoes. NuNu’s, a grocery store a half mile from my home, is making a joke about the resilience of the Louisiana people while gently reminding us to pick up an extra case of water, beer, and necessities before the weather gets bad and our streets flood.
This is probably not going to be the worst storm we have seen – so it is easy to make fun. However, my local broadcaster is there with us and reminding us of what needs to be done. It is a great time to consider the hard work done by our local broadcasters at a time when we need them the most.
I must put in a plug for my favorite podcast, On the Media. They do great handbooks on breaking news. Here is the one on storms. https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/breaking-news-consumers-handbook-american-storm-edition