Hoots, Howls and the Snowpocalypse: Overkill or Good Television?

Television Critic Jonathan Storm doesn’t sound like a huge fan of the big four TV stations in Philly. It only took half a sentence of his Inquirer piece to reduce the medium’s local news operation to “a hotbed of fear-mongering and trivial sensationalism.” However, it’s the opening sentence’s second half of that deserves a Hoot for the week. When it comes to Snowmageddon coverage, Storm says the local outlets did a “splendid job.”

It would be so easy for a newspaper writer to level shots at another news provider in town, and while Storm indulges in a comment or two (John Bolaris’ 2001 Storm of the Century prediction), he mostly gives deserved praise. I’m sure Wednesday morning saw him sucked into wall-to-wall coverage with the rest of us, and not because it’s his job to review it.

There’s no denying that local TV news is absolutely captivating on a snow day. Storm talks about finding the right blend of hard and soft news, which helps, but in this situation even the hardest news yields a positive response from the viewer. What’s your reaction seeing a bunch of cars stuck on the road? “I’m happy to be here in my house.” How about when interstate highways shut down? “Glad I’m not going anywhere.” Winter storms are truly one of the few stories that tie the community together because everyone experiences the exact same thing simultaneously.

Storm also praises the stations for their use of viewer pictures and video. Every inch of the city is a potential TV-worthy spectacle with a blanket of snow on top. Choosing to whip out the newer technologies during this situation is perhaps the most appropriate use of citizen journalism.

While other days may reveal a different tone, Mr. Storm handed the day to local TV when they deserved it and that in itself deserves a HOOT.

– Brendan McNamara

I’m calling out all the local TV news outlet. I understand that the second big snow storm in less than a week is a big news story, but really, do we need to devote 10+ hours of solid news coverage to it?  Was there nothing else going on in the region that they couldn’t report on? What about what else is going on in the world?

I know that local news is a completely different beast than national news.  But after about hour four or five, I had to switch from local TV news to CNN and MSNBC, just to see what else was going on in the world.  All the local news did, for 10 hours, was talk about how many inches of snow we got, how much we were going to get, what different people were doing in the snow, how the roads look in the snow, how heavy the snow is, what the mayor’s saying about the snow, etc. Snow, snow, snow.

I can look out the window and see it’s snowing.  I can shovel my walkway and feel how cold it is, how heavy the snow is, and see how much I’ve got.  I can understand covering the snow during the appointed news times (5-7 am, noon, evening drive.)  I can even understand giving hourly updates on things like snow totals, or breaking into regular broadcasts to tell us when the mayor or governor declares a state of emergency or closes major roads.

I was so inundated by the coverage that I ended up tuning it out completely.  I know that the way the local news covers snow storms has always been the same, and it’s doubtful it will ever change.  But at the same time, there has to be a point where someone says, “Enough is enough!”

– Renee Cree

Inquirer journalist Patrick Kerkstra’s question and answer session with Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson appears scripted and leaves a number of unanswered questions.

The Q&A begins by asking the commissioner about the status of Philadelphia’s snowy streets, as well as whether the storm caused the thick layer of ice that sits on most roads.  I believe most readers could figure out the answers to these questions without a Q&A with the commissioner. We all know that the storm caused ice patches on the road.  Instead of asking Commissioner Tolson questions that anyone who has watched a news story in the past 24-hours could answer, Kerkstra should have taken his interview a step further.  For example, Kerkstra could have asked about the city’s strategy for clearing the streets.  How is priority of snow clearing determined?  Who makes these decisions?  When can residents living on side streets expect to have their streets cleared?  Is there a phone number that residents can call if there is a severe problem?  Where is the city getting the money to pay for the snow cleanup?

Because the interview is so thin, the questions seem as if it were cleared by the commissioner or sent to her in advance.  The responses seem prepared, which makes the Q&A come across like a public relations story and less like a journalistic endeavor. This is a problem that I see happening with many of the interviews with city officials.  I am not sure if journalists can realistically ask hard questions and retain access to these officials, but I think they should at the least try.  And so I howl….

– Cherri Gregg

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