Sunday, August 28, 2011

Earthquakes and Hurricanes and Flooding, Oh My!

There is much to fear if you let it when you live in a city like New York. My mother taught me at a young age how to hold my pocketbook on the subway so my wallet would not get picked and to never to stand too close to the edge of the platform in the event a crazy came by and pushed you in. There is the fear of that giant crane on the construction site next door that with one big swing could come crashing into your building. Or unsecured scaffolding that could crush those walking underneath. Being stuck in an elevator or worse, a subway car between stations crosses many minds. I have a personal fear of falling through a subway grate. And lets not forget the big one, the fear of a terrorist attack that 9/11 proved to be far too real.

But you learn to adjust and take it in stride. No one who lives here for an extended period dwells in fear. Those who do usually wind up moving someplace else.

Earthquakes are not on your average New Yorker's fear list. Nor are hurricanes. Yet in the span of one week our fair city has experienced both. As I write this Irene has been downgraded to a tropical storm and the next big worry is how much flooding will occur. This all just two weeks away from the anniversary of 9/11. All of this has tested even the hardiest of New Yorkers. So it was no wonder there was an edge in the air the last few days as bottled water and batteries disappeared from the shelves. We had reason to worry and to prepare. And I applaud Mayor Bloomberg in how he readied the city. Because this is after all Mother Nature we are talking about. We can't control what she decides to do. But we can control our actions, get our go bags ready and stock the house with supplies.

Who can't seem to control themselves through any of these potential disasters is the media. Their job at times like this is to keep us informed and in touch, and dare I say, perhaps even calm us, not to exacerbate and make the potential of real disaster seem even greater than it is. But that was not the case. I liken them to addicts in search of a fix. Their fix being some fear-inducing lead-in that will get you to turn them on or click through a link to their website. A reason to change the inflection of their voice as though they were acting in a play on Broadway instead of reporting the news.

When I was a kid during the very turbulent sixties you looked to a Walter Cronkite to steady you. Today finding anyone who carries any of his soothing characteristics is rare. I stopped watching CNN yesterday when Wolf Blitzer led with roof tops blowing off the houses in Virginia and then stopped with no details as to whether it was one roof or a dozen or where in the very big state of Virginia that was. He wanted me to hang around for his next update. I didn't. I switched channels. And I switched and I switched. I was in search of some sort of  sensibility in reporting as people up and down the East Coast were waiting in trepidation for when the hurricane would hit them.  I wanted information not hype. I wanted calm not frenzy. I wanted reporting that served as a resource to the community, not tied up in ratings and advertising revenue and a desire to be #1 but targeted at keeping the public informed.

For the record I settled where I should have started. With my old friends at NY1 News, which in full disclosure I once worked for. I prefer the even inflection and well thought out questions of  Pat Kiernan and the saneness and intelligence of their meteorologist, John Davitt, to any of my other choices.

The next big fear is the flooding factor. But I will add one more to that. The fear that if the media consistently creates more hype instead of more reporting, we will all start to tune out. And then like the boy who cried wolf, we will not know when we should really be paying attention.

Do you think the media did their job reporting on Hurricane Irene?

1 comment:

Tracy said...

I think the media blows things out of proportion for drama and ratings at times, but honestly, I'd rather be prepared then surprised when it comes to a natural distaster.

I did see one reporter at the coast standing in the surf and nearly being blown over, so at least they add some amusement to the nightly news.

(P.S. - I smiled at your first line because my grandma always called her purse a pocketbook.)