Friday, June 20, 2008

Safety first when covering severe weather

Recent flood coverage reminded me it's that time of year... hurricanes will be brewing and that means the inevitable coverage featuring reporters who put themselves in danger. I'm always amazed at reporters who do live shots and tell viewers, "Stay in your homes! These are dangerous conditions!" They should add another line and say, "I, however, being a member of the media, am bulletproof, and must prove to my News Director that hundred mile per hour winds and flying debris don't scare me."

Meanwhile, the staff weatherperson is breaking into programming, telling viewers the sky is falling and it's so dangerous outside you'd better get in the bathtub and pull a mattress over your head.

The first time I covered a hurricane on the Gulf Coast I was working with a veteran photog who'd been through dozens of storms. He told me the key to going home in one piece was to find a location that offered a good view of the storm while offering cover for the crew. We ended up at a boarded up restaurant, found a great windbreak and a safe spot from which to do live shots. They looked just as good as anyone else's, except I wasn't in the line of fire of the flying jagged two-by-fours that seemed to bang into the restaurant every few minutes.

But young, single people love to play cowboy on these stories. It's only a matter of time before someone gets killed by flying debris or gets sucked out into the water.

To illustrate how strong nature can be, let me relate one flooding story. We were sent to get some video of a flooded street, which was basically under ankle deep water. It had stopped raining but the water was still rushing across the road. I was amazed at how strong the current was as we walked across the street and didn't think we were in any danger. But the current was so strong, we later found out, that a road worker had been knocked off his feet, sucked into a drain and drowned. And the water only covered my shoes. No hurricane winds, just current, and a man died.

Keep that in mind when you're sent to cover severe weather, as dead reporters tell no tales.

There are several rules to follow for severe weather coverage:

-Never, ever, ever put the mast up on the live truck if there is lightning in the area. The photog or truck op should always have discretion on this.

-Never put yourself in danger to "illustrate" the conditions. If you want to show how deep water is, get video of the top of a car, a house under water, whatever. Standing in waist deep water just illustrates you're not smart enough to stay safe.

-Just because the rain has slacked off during a hurricane doesn't mean you can't get hurt. Flying debris can do just as much damage as water.

-Find a safe spot before shooting.

-Keep in touch with the weather department to find out what's headed your way.

-And finally, News Directors, it's time to give your staff a talk about staying safe during this coverage. If you don't you might be the one with blood on your hands. You also need to show your staff that safety tape about what to do if your live truck is struck by lightning.

I'm sure more photogs will post other tips along these lines. But bottom line, the viewers know when the weather is really bad, and are more likely to see you as an idiot than a brave reporter.

The phrase "too stupid to come in out of the rain" has been around a long time for a reason.

Friday's story ideas

Public funding for political campaigns. Most people don't know how it really works, so explain it. (Since McCain & Obama will be talking about it a lot.)

Many states are pushing legislation to make English the official language.

With people driving less, that means less state tax revenue that's usually earmarked for road maintenance. How are states managing?

Teenage pregnancy is on the rise. Have movies like "Juno" changed the thinking on this subject among teens and made it "cool" to be pregnant?

As money gets tight, shoplifting is on the rise, especially at supermarkets.

Supreme Court decision makes it easier for older workers to prove age discrimination.

Millions of seniors and veterans have not claimed their IRS refund checks. Find some of these people and help them.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Congrats! Another 86 market jump!

86 must be the magic number this summer. My last client to move jumped 86 markets. Then another one moved this week... 86 market jump. "Get Smart" opens this week... and Maxwell Smart is... Agent 86. Hmmmm.

Anyway, coincidence aside, I wanted to give a shout out to reporter Sally Showman, who jumps from Idaho Falls, Idaho to KXLY in Spokane, Washington. In doing so, Sally moves back to her home state... something most of us wish for but few achieve.

Sally's tape wandered in a few months ago, and I was honestly blown away by her talent. Her nature stories were so good I stopped the tape and made my wife (who loves that stuff) watch them... and she was riveted. But her tape simply needed to be rearranged, as she didn't really have her best stuff up front. Sally is an old-fashioned storyteller, one who uses all the elements (pictures, sound, and fabulous copy) to put great packages together. Hew new station will soon discover it hired a real gem.

Funny thing about Sally, though... she was shooting too low marketwise in sending out tapes. It's a problem many young people have. For some reason you've had it drummed into your head that you can only move so many markets, or have to send tapes within a certain market range, or that markets in the top fifty reside in some magical place that requires a ton of experience. One more time, and I'll shoot you with the clue gun if you don't listen... you have nothing to lose by taking a shot. Any market, anywhere. Don't you owe it to yourself to try?

So congrats to Sally for taking that shot.

Thursday's story ideas

Drilling for oil. If you live in a coastal or "environmentally sensitive" market, what's the general feeling about this, and what could it mean for your community?

Real estate for waterfront property... in light of flooding, are buyers more leery of these locations, and what is the weather doing to property values?

Lender don't want to foreclose... it is too costly. So many are taking steps to work with borrowers. Find one in your market.

Home equity loans if you're short of cash. Are they hard to get, and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

Vitamin D can help people with colon cancer.

Cell phone wars... prices are coming down.

Study shows that eating a big breakfast with lots of carbs will help you lose weight and keep it off.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday's story ideas

Dividend stocks. Money markets and CDs are paying almost nothing, so many investors are turning to old fashioned blue chips that pay quarterly dividends.

Tim Russert's death sends middle-aged men (who notoriosly avoid doctors) in for physicals. Are there warning signs for the same thing that felled Russert?

How slow can you legally drive on the Interstate? I'm seeing lots of people slowing down to save gas.

Defective valve stems on tires made in China could have you headed for a breakdown. How do you check a) to see if you have Chinese tires; and b) to see if your valve stems are OK?

The Fed says health care costs are straining the economy. Is this an area in which people are cutting back?

Fake tans for summer. Do a fun consumer piece on how to look great without sunbathing.

***don't forget to buy lunch for a photog this week***

Monday, June 16, 2008

Monday's story ideas

Walking is growing in popularity, both as a good exercise and also as a way to save gasoline.

People age 19 and 20 are the most likely age group to go without health insurance, as many parents health plans don't cover children past eighteen. What's the solution, especially if you're in college and don't have a job?

The average person would save $1800 per year ditching the car and taking mass transit to work.

Wal-Mart has improved the fuel efficiency of its trucks by 20 percent this year... so how did they do it and why can't every company do it?

Interesting fact about grocery shopping... the more expensive items are on the middle shelves, the cheaper ones are on the top and bottom shelves. Apparently food companies pay big bucks to get their products into the middle. So go shopping, put your camera on the bottom of the cart and look for bargains.

Negotiating for a discount with a physician. It's not insulting, it's done all the time by many people who have little or no insurance.

How are honeybees doing in your market? Reports earlier this year had them disappearing... are they still vanishing or are farmers seeing a return?