Networks fail to do Sandy justice

GORDON BROWN
Last updated 05:00 03/11/2012
hurricane sandy
REUTERS
SUPER STORM SANDY: Parts of an amusement park’s rides are all that remain from a boardwalk and pier after Hurricane Sandy in Seaside Park, New Jersey.

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A super storm called Sandy dominated much of the week's television viewing.

Conveniently, it was hovering over the east coast of the United States, the one part of the world with the most sophisticated communications and electronic systems in the world. We were sure to see absolutely everything as it unfolded.

Super Storm Sandy was courteous enough to be slow-moving, which meant all the networks had plenty of time to get cameras and personnel in place to bring us the action. The countdown until Sandy hit land meant the anticipation was intense.

There was even the added titillation of Sandy being dubbed Frankenstorm, a wonderful name made for television and the headline writers. As it got closer we spent a day or two flicking mainly between CNN, Sky News [Australia] and then both TV One and TV3's main news bulletins when Sandy was at its peak.

Without wanting to be disrespectful to any of those who lost their lives as a result of the storm, from a strictly televisual point of view, it was a bit of an anti-climax. When it comes to natural disasters being beamed into our lounges, this once-in-a-lifetime event, as we were continually reminded, didn't live up to its billing.

There was a promising start too, with the stunning image of a crane having its arm twisted to the extent it broke and remained dangling, limp in a way that suggested that under any other circumstances, jokes about Viagra would have been inevitable.

When I mentioned that to Mrs Brown she looked at me with something close to disdain at my lack of taste, and for some reason that I still can't quite work out said: "I wouldn't go there if I was you".

Anyway, from the crane on there wasn't a lot of dramatic footage to capture the imagination. We found CNN had the most comprehensive coverage, with reporters dotted everywhere there was a foot, or more, of water where it shouldn't be. We liked the fact that they concentrated exclusively on the storm, but used their regular hosts in their scheduled timeslots to anchor that particular segment.

Fox News also had saturation coverage, if you'll excuse the pun, but was a little behind CNN, and their attempts to blame the weather, along with everything else, on Barack Obama and the Democrats was a trifle tedious.

Back home, TV One absolutely trounced rival TV3 in the all-important 6pm news bulletins with its coverage. The main reason was resources. TV One has long had an American-based correspondent and with Jack Tame based in New York, he was able to give comprehensive reports, with a Kiwi twist. Jack, who Mrs B thinks we should adopt because of his boyish charm, got wet, got blown around by the wind, and was able to file personalised accounts of what was happening not only on the coast, but in his own neighbourhood.

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The young man is an absolute star of the future and it was no contest. TV3 does not have a permanent correspondent in the US, and it showed. Ironically, political reporter Patrick Gower left during the week to cover the election, but he missed the storm, which was good for him, but not so good for TV3 viewers.

Tuesday night's 6pm bulletin opened with still shots, with a New Zealand-based reporter talking us through them. It just wasn't the same.Footage later on was by then almost inconsequential by comparison. TVNZ 10, TV3 0 on that one.

For Mrs B and me the biggest mystery was why the Bounty, or to be more precise the replica of Captain Bligh's famous sailing ship, continued to sail the Atlantic waters close to the east coast of the States.

The captain and crew had been urged to come into safe haven, but they knew better and continued to try to outrun "Frankenstorm". Tragically they didn't and the pictures of the ship dashed to pieces by the storm were a graphic illustration of the captain's folly. Sadly he and another crew member lost their lives.

To add to the avoidable deaths, a woman jogging in a New York park was killed by a falling branch, and another electrocuted while wading through water. Tastefully, little was made of it by the major networks.

Overall, as disasters go, the tsunamis in Phuket and Indonesia in 2004 and the Japanese one last year were far more televisually appealing, but they were enormous tragedies and as Mrs B's just reminded me, we were glad so few died because of Sandy. Definitely. Not everything in the world has to happen to make good telly, but then, that's what reality television is doing to us.

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