Mississippi River flood gates open for cliche reporter stand-ups

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.

Flood water reporters and anchors. (Clockwise from upper left) Mark Straussmann, CBS News, David Mattingly, CNN, Diane Sawyer, ABC News, Mike Tobin, Fox News, Jay Gray, NBC News

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 reported on floodwater dangers in Memphis, Tenn. "Of course, anyone who comes back home," said Sawyer, "is in danger of walking into a vat of snakes."

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's David Mattingly

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.”  

ABC News' Steve Osumsami. Do you think that "Keep Out" sign is there for a reason?

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.

Fox News Chief Meteorologist Rick Reichmuth

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.

CNN Reporter Martin Savidge

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 Straussmann, CBS News

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.

About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
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9 Responses to Mississippi River flood gates open for cliche reporter stand-ups

  1. I always ask myself this question when springtime rolls around and reporters are back to doing to same ol’ thing. It also makes me think of a video I saw where I reporter was in a canoe in what was supposedly very deep flood water. Then, someone in the background walked by with the water just past their ankles. Whoops!

  2. Walt Jeffries says:

    Thank You! for printing this article. I didn’t see ABC news on this page but I certainly saw their report. The 2nd day, he made sure to say it was safe if you had your rubber boots on. Common really, Stand on the land and show the water in the background. Folks you look like a fools standing in the water while telling folks to stay out.

  3. Pingback: Get Out of the Waters! « kmorganelli247

  4. PiedType says:

    Love this report. So much better than my jab at the same topic. I’ve been retired too long.

  5. Pingback: Those intrepid reporters | Pied Type

  6. lgunlock says:

    barneymccoy.wordpress.com is awsome, bookmarked!

  7. Thanks for your fun-to-read post about journalists reporting on nature. I’ve always found it somewhat silly and ironic when reporters are standing out there in horrendous weather – isn’t that one of the very reasons to drive a car and use a camera. Technology now allows us to avoid putting ourselves at such risk, so, why not take good care, and…remain warm and dry? This is just my opinion, not being a journalist.

    • barneymccoy says:

      Good points William…Yes, logic should suggest that taking unnecessary risks undermines credibility and personal safety.

  8. Pingback: Get Out of the Waters! | katemorganelli.com

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