Thursday, March 7, 2013

OMG! Hyperbole!

Effects of proper reporting

There is no doubt in my mind the storms experienced by many areas of the country this winter have provided some challenges for the residents. However, the dire reports broadcast by the national media in the aftermath of the storms give me pause. The skepticism is based on personal experience. In 1983 we were at landfall, in Freeport, Texas, when Hurricane Alicia blew through. Yes, it was scary. Yes, we lost power in the neighborhood for several days. We even had a death on our property - an opossum was blown out of a tree. However, the media reports that came out claiming “total devastation” to the area were a bit extreme, to say the least.

There must be a course in journalism school dedicated to reporting such situations. I suspect it’s called Hyperbole 401. The object is to provide the future purveyors of panic insight into what will sell air time. The course would undoubtedly be taught by a nervous, caffeine-powered professor with a propensity toward panic attacks. Through years of observation, I believe the following points are likely to be considered essential elements of the course. 

Point 1: There is a hierarchy in storm adjectives. Always use the most elevating adjective possible.

“The deadly storm becomes a life-threatening storm if nobody dies. Lacking near-lethal situations, it becomes a potentially life-threatening storm. But if the thing peters out after building up the public’s angst, call it a serious hive-inducing storm.” 

Point 2: To truly be newsworthy a storm must be considered lethal and should affect a broad area. Consequently, the use of “killer” and “widespread” are mandatory, and should be used in conjunction with one another.

“The killer storm swept through the area causing widespread power outages affecting nearly six remote dairy farms outside of Coon’s Creek, Iowa.” 

Point 3: Any Joe Schmuckatelli who wanders into the area, even if he’s just rubber-necking, is an “emergency responder.” Remember, nobody just looks around, they “evaluate.”

“Emergency responders rushed from the local Dunkin’ Donuts shop to evaluate the damage.” 

Injury to extremity requiring medical attention
Point 4: There must be at least one other potential disaster associated with the original. You are only as good as the next news cycle.

“The chilling possibility of a milk shortage in south Coon’s Creek has mobilized a relief force of at least two, maybe three, dairy shelf stockers from the Piggly Wiggly in north Coon’s Creek to deal with the potential crisis. Stay tuned as Channel 0, KRAP TV, monitors the situation closely.” 

Point 5a: Create credibility by interviewing the most obviously distraught local to provide a general sense of just how bad the situation was, or is.

“I’m here with Irma Gumflapper, a resident of Cowpie Park, located near the most heavily ravaged area. You were here during the storm, how bad was it?” 

“I ain’t never seen a blizzard like this one!”

Point 5b: Don’t screw up the end game by asking for particulars - especially  if the interview can’t be edited before airing. 

“And how long have you lived here, Mrs. Gumflapper?”

“Moved up from Bugfart, Mississippi last fall.” 

Point 6: There are no injuries, except serious injuries. Even a trip to the medicine cabinet for a Band-Aid is “seeking medical attention.”

“We don’t have all the details, but at least one resident has sought medical attention for an injury to his extremities.” 

Point 7: There is no such thing as a simple snowfall. It must be driven or blinding snow, and must limit visibility to zero. It’s even better if some sort of accident can be blamed on it.

“Police have not confirmed the report, but it is believed the blinding snow caused zero visibility and the truck driver lost sight of the road ahead, causing him to veer into several pieces of snow clearing equipment.” 

In the final analysis I guess reporting is just like any theatrical endeavor in that there are no small storms, only small reporters.


  1. You are a winner! The Sunshine Award: