Are Reporters In Hurricanes Heroic Or Stupid?

As yet another hurricane makes its way to America’s shores, America’s reporters have once again planted themselves right in the middle of the storm.
And that begs the question: Is it stupid for reporters to do live shots while standing in the middle of a hurricane?
If you’ve been watching Hurricane Sandy coverage, you’ve likely seen a few reporters standing in a stormy area “braving” increasingly strong winds and surging waves.
So are they doing a public service, or is it an arrogant conceit that unnecessarily risks the safety of reporters and their crews?

Chris Lawrence of CNN during Hurricane Irene. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, appearing on CNN, told Wolf Blitzer, ‘Tell Chris to get the hell out of that water.’

When I posed this question on my Facebook page during Hurricane Irene, one commenter asked: “…do you stay out of a war zone or a protest that could turn ugly, too?”
She’s right that reporters have to occasionally risk danger to get the story. But I’d argue that this dangerous journalistic hurricane chasing is less about news value and more about showmanship. Dramatic images fuel higher ratings, and daring reporters receive professional kudos for their “bravery.” Getting blown down by heavy winds, drenched by angry waves, or struck by flying debris has become a de rigueur rite of passage for weather reporters.
Plus, are they really protecting the public by showing them just how dangerous the storm is in person? Doesn’t it stand to reason that viewers might think, “Well, if it’s safe enough for that guy to stand out there…”

Just how dangerous is this type of coverage? In this video, Julie Martin of The Weather Channel slams into an SUV after being hit by a wind gust during 2008’s Hurricane Dolly:

And in this one, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough risks being hit by flying debris during 2004’s Hurricane Jeanne:

When Dan Rather became the first reporter to cover a live hurricane in 1961, it made sense to broadcast from the storm’s center. The public hadn’t seen that shot before, it broke new journalistic ground, and it added to the story. But five decades of these shots have diminished both their impact and their news value.
News organizations will inevitably continue this dangerous practice until the moment a reporter gets seriously injured or killed – at which point they’ll predictably dial it back. In an era when live cams can tell the story well enough during the actual storm, it’ll be a preventable and largely pointless tragedy.

Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally ran during Hurricane Irene on August 28. 2011.

What do you think? Is this type of weather reporting brave and necessary or just plain reckless? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.