Hoffman's Houston
Hurricane Harvey

Old bad habits creep back into storm coverage on TV: Give Harvey evacuees respect and privacy

Old bad habits return to storm coverage on TV: Give evacuees privacy

Houston, Hurricane Harvey, flood photos, first responders
Note to reporters: please stop rushing to ambush evacuee families. Courtesy of ABC13/Twitter

After several days of remarkable, responsible, 24-hour public service, I'm starting to see old, unfortunate instincts creep into local TV coverage.

Note to reporters: Please stop rushing to ambush evacuee families in rescue boats. As a reader told me, they're having the worst day of their lives. They're wet and cold, disoriented, and frightened. The last thing they need is a hotshot TV reporter with bad judgment (or a bad assignments editor) shoving a microphone in their face, asking "How are you?"

How do you think they are?

I watched one reporter yanking on his microphone cord like tug-o-war trying to reach a family arriving to safety in a boat. That's not "good TV," it's just very, very bad taste. 

This isn't Kim Kardashian arriving at L.A. airport. This isn't TMZ. Give these poor people some privacy. Be respectful.

Maybe it's because Houston's story has turned from a weather event to a desperate rescue mission. Or maybe our reporters are punchy from working around the clock since Saturday. But any minute I'm expecting to see a reporter standing in waist-deep water ... telling viewers how dangerous it is to stand in waist-deep water. Remember Hurricane Ike and Tropical Storm Alison?

Important, it's only a very small number of reporters being foolish out there. Most are acting like real pros, giving out useful information and describing the enormous despair endured by thousands of families. I'm bouncing from Channel 2 to 11 to 13 to 26. They're all doing fine journalism.

Then there was CNN last night, running a headline saying, "Harvey regaining strength, poised to strike Houston again."

Where did they get that weather prediction? It may happen, hope not, but that's not what our local forecasters are saying. Our weather reporters have been outstanding, right on target with understandable explanations of what's happening and what to expect. Sure they're easy targets when they predict sunny and your company softball game gets rained out. But Harvey is serious business and they're delivering big time.  

I shouldn't do this, because it's unfair to single out one reporter when so many are doing incredible work. But this morning, I watched Channel 2 reporter Ryan Korsgard, who's been working long hours, finally lose control of his emotions and begin crying.

He's human. I totally get it. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I went to the Astrodome to help with relief efforts. I was assigned to hand out pajamas to evacuees, mostly women and their children. These people had nothing and nowhere to turn. And yet they were so polite and grateful. Even the kids said "thank you" when I handed them pj's. I felt like crying every two minutes. I have a feeling that when their shift is over, reporters covering Harvey let their emotions fly, too.

Don't think that bad judgment is private property of TV reporters. The time I was most embarrassed by my newspaper was when a writer posed as a Katrina evacuee at the Astrodome and took up time and services meant for broken  hurricane victims. Who thinks to do that?

It looks like Harvey will be with us a few more days, and his damage for several months, if not years. There are a million stories to be told. Let's be respectful of the evacuees.