Memo to television news reporters covering flooding along the Mississippi River: Please refrain from doing stand-ups and live shots in the chemical and waste contaminated, snake infested floodwaters you’ve been advising viewers to avoid. Such actions could be hazardous to your health.
The “I’m standing here in the Mississippi floodwaters” stand-ups could also be hazardous to your journalistic credibility.
Here are a few reasons NOT to do this brand of stand-up/ live shot:
- They make many reporters/anchors look amateurish and foolish.
- The stand-ups are gratuitous-They lack in good reason and reflect a creative deficit among many who do them.
- The stand-ups have been done so many times they’ve become cliche. I say that now, but only time will tell.
- They send a mixed message to your viewers; “Just because I’m doing this doesn’t mean you should be doing what I’m telling you not to do.”
- Contrary to popular belief, the “standing in water” stand-ups are not a form of journalistic baptism.
Many network anchors and reporters have also been getting into the act.
ABC News Anchor Diane Sawyer was sloshing around the floodwaters in Memphis saying; “Stand in it and you can feel the pull, the rush.” Sawyer added, “You can see the water coming up. You can see it rising as we speak.”
Later in her report, Sawyer made another trek through the water and made note of the dangers of electrical currents, raw sewage, alligators and poisonous water moccasin snakes. “Of course, anyone who comes back home,” said a melodramatic Sawyer, “is in danger of walking into a vat of snakes.”
CNN reporter David Mattingly also waded through the flooded muck on Monday for a live report. Mattingly did make mention of the potential contamination hazard- “After I’ve been in this water in these waders, these waders get decontaminated before I take them home. We take this very seriously. There’s no telling what’s in this water.”
Some argue that the waterlogged stand-ups show viewers that reporters are on the scene and part of the story.
I believe reporters and anchors doing the floodwater stand-ups sometimes make too much of themselves and too little of the story they’re covering.
I am not without sin
I confess- As a young reporter I often did floodwater stand-ups like these too. One day a viewer called and asked: “Why stand in that dirty water when you can stand on dry ground? You can’t even see where you’re stepping. “ I didn’t have a good answer. I still don’t decades later.
A better way
If you cover a flood as a reporter, try a safer, more illustrative, creative memorable way to do it.
Here’s one example: Fox News Chief Meteorologist Rick Reichmuth did a live stand-up in Memphis this week perched atop a bluff. Reichmuth’s videographer panned and zoomed the camera to illustrate several examples that captured the live scale of the flooding. After segueing to some video of more flood damage, the live shot returned to Reichmuth who interviewed a deli owner who was using the bluff top to try his luck at fishing. Good information, great visual choreography and pretty solid reporting from a news network I sometimes find lacking in detail and accuracy.
For a more contextual perspective on the flooding, I like this fine feature report by CNN’s Martin Savidge. It links the history of U.S. Highway 61 with the Mississippi River and much of the society wrapped around the two. Savidge stayed dry the entire time.
Mark Strassmann, CBS News veteran reporter, has been covering the floods this month. Strassmann usually avoids the knee-deep-in-water stand-ups. Here he and his videographer stay dry on the bank of the Mississippi River after hunting down a floating refrigerator that was washed out of a flooded home and left swirling for four days in a river whirlpool in the background.
Eventually, the floodwaters will recede. With them will go the silly reporter/ anchor stand-ups and live shots. I can hardly wait for hurricane season to begin.