I have a confession to make. I realize that a lot of you don’t like me already and are only reading this because you thought it was one of Shea’s posts, but this is going to make you like me even less.
I used to work in TV news.
I worked at WWBT Channel 12 in Richmond, Virginia, during my senior year of college and for another year thereafter. I edited video tape, monitored police scanners, and wrote scripts for the occasional news item when the producers let me. (“Flesh-eating bacteria in all of the food at one local grocery store? Tune in at 11 for details!”) Sometimes, when we did live interviews from the newsroom, I walked back and forth behind the interviewee looking busy just to get on television.
What can I say? I’m not proud, but I was young and I needed the money.
So you’ll forgive me if I was a little skeptical when my parents called me last Friday to tell me that the local news stations were calling for snow the next day. It started Friday morning with, “They’re calling for two five inches,” and I thought, “Yeah, they’re just trying to get you to watch.” Then it escalated to an all out nor’easter (East Coast-speak for “big storm”). Airports shut down, NFL games were delayed, and a new Facebook page called “Snowpocalypse” garnered thousands of new members in just a matter of hours. Before it was over, Friend of IBD Gerrard Jolly declared that he was thereafter to be known as “Snow-Torious.”
And yes, local news stations spanning the eastern seaboard busted out their graphic big guns. Animated snowflakes danced across blue backgrounds on televisions and web pages. Broadcasts featured video of 18-wheelers sliding off highways, interviews with grocery shoppers stocking up on more milk than they could drink in a month, and shivering weatherpeople standing just outside their studio doors to demonstrate that it was, in fact, snowing. (“As you can tell by the snow that’s accumulated on my perfectly coiffed hair in the 30 seconds that I’ve been out here, it’s snowing!”)
In Philadelphia, 6ABC Action News (or something), which is highly respected as local news stations go (which is kind of like being very tasty as arsenic goes), whimsically called for viewers to send in “snowtographs” of a storm that had killed three people, stranded travelers across the country, and paralyzed the most populous part of the country. Photos of newsworthy snow storms, by law, fall into three categories:
- People shoveling driveways and sidewalks even though it’s still snowing and they’re just going to have to do it again in a few hours.
- Adorable kids/pets playing in the snow.
- Vehicles in ditches.
It’s the visual vernacular particular to this one medium: the dancing cartoon snowflakes, the gray video and photos, the smiling weatherperson telling you how bad things are. We know exactly what we’re going to see when we tune in, and yet we can’t help ourselves. (At least I can’t.)
Of course, the snow is still here, but the hysteria is gone, grocery stores have restocked their milk supply, and TV news stations have moved on. It’s actually kind of quiet around here.
And now I wonder what the weather’s going to be like the next few days.