As those who live to the northeast of New York dig out after the so-called “history-making” blizzard of 2015, I can’t help but think I was duped. Here in Manhattan we saw snow accumulations that didn’t really push beyond 25cm in spite of repeated warnings that it would exceed half a metre. Sure, the snowfalls in Boston and eastern Long Island were much higher but they weren’t quite what the media and public officials warned they would be.
Still, we all clung to this idea of an “abundance of caution”. I love that term. It sounds so official and threatening. The major news networks geared up and put correspondents in every conceivable place that you could expose a news crew to the elements. One such reporter was banished to a beach boardwalk in New Jersey where he spent the late night and early morning hours in a windswept car park. He warned us of a storm surge and told us that blistering winds were conspiring to potentially lead to massive power outages. At one point, a CNN anchor even said that at least 200,000 people would be without power by morning.
Ok, pause right there. I sort of understand the fear mongering insofar that it might boost ratings and could enable the public to stay informed: storms can be dangerous. But unless the presenter who predicted thousands of people would lose power is a certified clairvoyant then I feel that the public is actually being done a disservice. I get it; when a network goes wall-to-wall with coverage it’s important to have something to say. But is it so important that accuracy and accountability go out of the window?
This is the point where a conversation about weather and the media starts to get infuriating. And having been a network TV journalist myself, I fully understand the pressures and the need for instant information. So it is from this perspective that I can answer the questions of friends who ask, “Why do the media put us through this?” And, my unfortunate answer is: “Because no one expects better.” It really is a classic chicken- or-the-egg question. What came first, the media steeped in hyperbole and conjecture? Or, the audience steeped in obsessions with new information and extreme footage of catastrophic moments?
I would argue it’s one vicious cycle, a storm if you will. And for me, that’s the most concerning thing headed our way. Or has it already arrived? I’ll leave it for the networks to decide.
Tristan McAllister is transport editor for Monocle.