The pursuit of ratings has been running through the weather department of news organizations large and small as long as I have been in the business. News Directors, the people ultimately in charge of everything you read, see and hear have had a perverse love affair with weather for a very long time. Calamity means readers, viewers and listeners. Death and destruction draws an audience and they know it.
It has gotten progressively worse as the sales department has crept ever deeper into the newsroom and for most news companies’ sales now actually calls the shots on coverage of stories. Wicked weather gets huge ratings and therefore it means more money on the bottom line. Money drives the conversation and weather drives money therefore weather drives the money.
Two members of a South Carolina TV news department are dead today because the inevitable happened yesterday while they were covering the impact of Alberto. The Tropical Storm made landfall earlier in the day and they were running around ‘covering’ the storm while telling everyone else to stay inside and avoid driving and so forth. They were sent into the teeth of the storm because it is scary and it gets ratings. Sadly for anchor/reporter Mike McCormick and photographer Aaron Smeltzer of WYFF NBC News Channel 4, the storm was not concerned with their deadline to get a package turned in. Alberto didn’t concern itself with viewers or sponsors or any of the things that take command in morning news meetings. Instead the storm inundated the gound with tremendous amounts of rainfall that loosened the root system of a giant tree with a diameter of better than 3-feet. They were crushed and killed instantly. The SUV was still in gear and running when the local Fire Chief and his first responders arrived on the scene. The team had interviewed the same Fire Chief less than 10 minutes before he found them dead inside their vehicle.
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I know the drive to cover deadly weather because I was sent to cover floods and fires and tornadoes when we told everyone else to take cover or run or whatever it took to stay safe. This has been a tragedy I have been predicting for a very long time. You cannot continue to tempt fate before a human sacrifice is finally made at the alter of sales and profits.
Unless the deaths of the two hard working journalists from South Carolina are taken for what they are, a warning to be more responsible with coverage during deadly natural disasters, then others are certain to join the list of those killed in pursuit of ratings and money.