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August 30, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Monday-morning quarterbacks were accusing the broadcast networks and the cable news channels (and The Weather Channel) of overplaying the dangers of Hurricane Irene in order to boost ratings and ad sales. In an interview with the Associated Press, Lise King, a fellow at Harvard University, complained that the coverage became more of an entertainment than a means to convey information. “The two agendas cannot co-exist, as one serves to lead citizens into calm action and the other is meant, by nature, to drum up emotional responses in order to keep the viewer tuning in,” she said. Television news executives responded that storms in general are unpredictable (despite all the televised predictions) and this one was no exception. And if the goal was to increase ratings and thereby attract more spending by advertisers, then the execs failed miserably. Today’s New York Times observed that commercials worth tens of millions of dollars had to be canceled in order to allow uninterrupted coverage. “We weren’t paying attention to the revenue stream during the height of the storm,” Peter Dunn, who runs the CBS-owned TV station in New York told the Times. “We did run a couple of breaks, but it was very, very little compared with what we normally run.” Many of the ads that did run were disaster-related, particularly those for insurance companies. Much of the criticism was directed at the news outlets’ focus on New York City, despite the fact that other parts of the Northeast was more vulnerable to the winds and flooding. But on his CNN television show Monday night, host Piers Morgan defended the coverage, noting that if Irene had behave as predicted by the experts, “the devastation to life, limb … would have been horrendous.”