Saturday, August 27, 2011

If you had to assign reporters to cover Hurricane Irene...

...then where would you send them?

One of the challenges television news managers face each day is how to assign their precious-few reporters. The unfortunate reality today is that there are never enough reporters to be at every important location where news is taking place. Granted, in situations that exist along the eastern seaboard today, all hands are on deck and every available person finds himself or herself covering some aspect of the hurricane.

So, if you were in the role of a news manager today, where would you assign your reporters? Let's presume you have four reporters and you can station them anywhere within 50 miles of the Washington D.C. area. Where, in your opinion, are the most critical places?

The projections call for the worst of the storm to hit your area in the overnight hours, so with the evening approaching you are going to have to consider the safety of the men and women you dispatch.

Would you assign someone to either of the vacant airports or the vacant Union Station? A major U.S. metropolitan area is without two of its essential transportation services -- flight and train -- so perhaps a discussion about that is necessary?

What about one of the city's landmarks? Remember that the Washington Monument was damaged a few days ago because of the earthquake. How about someone there to discuss whether the pounding rains and winds might do further damage to that national landmark?

What about to the south of Washington? The first significant blasts from Irene will hit there -- and perhaps an hour or more before they get to central Washington. You can't concentrate just on Washington; remember, you have a significant viewing area to cover.

Would you send someone to a relief shelter, especially if you knew that one was filling up? There will be plenty of good stories to tell, as people relate to your reporter their thoughts and fears as they get ready for what might be the worst weather phenomenon of their lives.

If you said "yes" to each of those scenarios, then congratulations! You have assigned four reporters to four different locations. However, you've placed one in a place where nothing is happening -- an airport or train station. You've placed one in the National Mall, which also will be empty. It also will be getting harder and harder to see; so as your reporter continues to cover what is (not) happening there, he or she will be a solitary figure with nothing but blackness in the background. You assigned a third person along the water -- just like every other news station is doing. And what exactly will those video images look like at 11:00 tonight? Your fourth person is now stuck, for lack of a better term, in a closed environment.

Time to re-think your plan?

Maybe. Maybe not.

My point here is that critics are going to examine the choices you made, and those critics include your competition, journalists who follow the television industry, the public and more. So, make the decisions that you believe to be right and that can be explained and defended.

After that, turn your people loose and let them do their job!

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