Have you ever been so desperate for ratings that you almost got swept away by a hurricane's storm surge, then a couple of hours later chased down a woman in labor and tried to climb into the National Guard truck in which she was giving birth? If not, then you're not a reporter for The Weather Channel.
The Weather Channel did a spectacular job covering Hurricane Arthur's landfall in North Carolina on Friday, with hurricane expert Bryan Norcross anchoring coverage at the channel's Atlanta headquarters while a team of meteorologists and correspondents filed reports from the ground in the Tar Heel State.
Mike Seidel covered the storm from Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, which experienced the northern half of the eyewall, and Jim Cantore encountered some of Arthur's worst storm surge in the appropriately-named Waves, North Carolina.
Both the coverage on the ground and in-house were phenomenal, which hearkened back to the days when The Weather Channel was truly The Weather Channel. The network managed to pull off wall-to-wall coverage focused on the hurricane's threats with no trace of hype. The broadcasts were a refreshing step back into the "good old days," except for one glaring blemish on their otherwise-stellar performance: the reports filed by correspondent Dave Malkoff.
Malkoff, also stationed in Kill Devil Hills, did everything you're not supposed to do when a hurricane makes landfall. He:
1) Waded into storm surge and nearly got swept into the ocean:
2) Filed a report underneath live power lines that were falling down into the water he was standing in:
3) Chased down a woman in labor and tried to climb into the National Guard vehicle in which she was giving birth:
Other than the obvious potential for ratings gold, one of the major arguments that networks use to justify sending reporters into the elements is that they're showing viewers what the storm is doing on the ground, conveying the danger of the situation so viewers know what not to do if they're caught in the worst conditions.
An argument could be made that Seidel and Cantore were doing pretty much the same thing as Malkoff, but they were being smart about it. It's similar to the Mythbuster adage that the difference between science and screwing around is writing it down. When Mike Seidel stood along the beach and occasionally got washed over by a wave, he was explaining to viewers what the storm was doing to the coastline as it moved through. When Cantore stood in the storm surge, he explained exactly what he was doing and what was going on so that viewers in harm's way were prepared for what they were about to experience.
Sure, a not-insignificant part of it is to get good ratings, but you could tell by the tone of their reports that they were genuinely concerned for public safety. They are professional meteorologists, and their professional attitude was clear to anyone watching their broadcasts.
When the crew filmed Malkoff running around in the storm surge and chasing after a woman in labor, he looked like he was part of a team of amateur storm chasers trying to get footage for their YouTube account.
The Weather Channel is consciously trying to switch back to the legacy weather coverage that made it the mainstay it is today, so we'll see if and how it improves in the future. The network's coverage of Hurricane Arthur was a step in the right direction, but Malkoff's reporting...style...held it back from its true potential.
[Top image via Dave Malkoff's Twitter, videos via The Weather Channel]