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Were we wrong to mock Irene media hype?

Posted by Garrett Quinn, Less is More  August 29, 2011 09:50 AM

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One of things I enjoy most about major weather events in Boston is the fake local news reporter Biff Buffington on the Howie Carr Show on WRKO. Every time there is some impending doom headed for New England we get to hear poor old Biff reporting shouting hysterically from some seaside town about how this is "the big one" and it's going to be worse than '78. Carr has been doing it for years and it is pretty funny given the often apocalyptic tone that accompanies the coverage of any weather event. Carr, along with many of us, are jaded news consumers when it comes to storm coverage because they are always filled with some degree of hyperbole.

This time though it appears our mocking of the panicked tone may have been misplaced. Sure, many areas in the Greater Boston area made it out unscathed save for a few fallen trees but the dramatic videos of raging waters ripping through Vermont towns are borderline shocking. Huge swaths of the central part of the Commonwealth may be without power for days. The damage to much of the state wasn't nearly as bad as predicted but it was in many other places along the eastern seaboard. The nearly 700,000 people in Massachusetts without power are not alone as over 4.5 million people up and down the east coast have lost power. Over 21 people have been killed due to Irene's wrath - not catastrophic but not minor either.

Media critic Howard Kurtz noted that much of the hype surrounding this storm was due to it hitting New York City.

I say this with all due respect to the millions who were left without power, to those communities facing flooding problems, and of course to the families of the 11 people (at last count) who lost their lives in storm-related accidents.

And I take nothing away from the journalists who worked around the clock, many braving the elements, to cover a hurricane that was sweeping its way from North Carolina to New England.

But the tsunami of hype on this story was relentless, a Category 5 performance that was driven in large measure by ratings. Every producer knew that to abandon the coverage even briefly—say, to cover the continued fighting in Libya—was to risk driving viewers elsewhere. Websites, too, were running dramatic headlines even as it became apparent that the storm wasn’t as powerful as advertised.

The fact that New York, home to the nation’s top news outlets, was directly in the storm’s path clearly fed this story-on-steroids. Does anyone seriously believe the hurricane would have drawn the same level of coverage if it had been bearing down on, say, Ft. Lauderdale?

Now that the storm has passed and we're surveying the damage we have to ask: Was the hype for this storm appropriate or did we fall prey to ratings driven hysteria?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Garrett Quinn began writing for newspapers at age 17 with CNC in his native South Shore. He has been published in BlueMassGroup, RedMassGroup, Pioneer Investigates, and Wonkette. He is a More »

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