MINNEAPOLIS -- The time-honored TV tradition of sending journalists into hurricanes for live reports has come under fire as a practice that puts news crews in danger and setting a bad example.
But Hurricanes Harvey and Irma proved once again it's a hard habit to break for broadcasters. And apparently, viewers have come to expect it.
"I think people find this compelling, and understandably so," Scott Libin, a senior fellow at the Hubbard School of Journalism at the University of Minnesota, told KARE.
"And I think they expect certain reasonable risks to be taken by journalists, just as they do by first responders."
Libin led several TV newsrooms, both here in the Twin Cities and in hurricane prone states. He currently chairs the Radio Television Digital News Association, or RTDNA, the national organization for news managers.
"I understand the perception of hypocrisy on this -- you have courageous reporters out there sternly admonishing viewers not to do what those very reporters are doing," Libin remarked.
"Which would you watch? A newscast that shows you pictures and provides you information, or one that features human beings, credible people you trust, out there reporting first hand on what they can see and feel and hear and experience?"
Libin said most hurricane crews take more precautions than the viewers realize, such as stationing the camera inside a parking garage or hotel room, so that the reporter can venture out for the occasional live report. He pointed out that most reporters are experienced enough to know when to say enough it enough.
"I think people want news from human beings, and sometimes a human has to take a knee, and sometimes reporters will say, you know this is getting out of hand, I’m going inside," Libin explained.
His organization, the RTDNA, received an open letter on Facebook Monday from a former Federal Communications Commission attorney, urging the industry to adopt equipment standards such as helmets and anchored safety lines that are visible to viewers.
Libin said such precautions are something worth debating within the industry, and some hurricane reporters could be seen wearing safety gear.
But he asserted that instituting bans or hard rules against hurricane reporting or other severe weather reports would be going too far.
"We can’t think of this as one thing or another – we either send reporters out into these conditions or we don’t," he said, "There has to be a range of alternatives, and we have make these decisions based on a lot of considerations."
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