Other WelchWrite Blogs: A Gardener's Notebook - Career Opportunities - TechnologyIQ - Careers in New Media

Home -- Contact Me -- Search Welchwrite.com -- Follow My Word

Subscribe to Douglas' Newsletter today!

Friday, August 28, 2009

What is needed in California wildfire news coverage...more information!

Watching tonight's coverage of the Palos Verde fire and coverage of the Station and Morris fires over the last several days and I am having my usual thoughts about televison fire coverage. We get a little info from the reporters on location, weather, some street info, etc, but as a viewer I want, and in some cases NEED, a lot more information. The silly thing is, this information could be easily gathered and replace the almost information worthless shots (though quite dramatic) of flames reaching into the sky.

What do I want? Here are some pieces of info I would love to see overlaid, or in replacement of, the typical helicopter and ground shots:
  1. Google-style maps showing as much info as possible on perimeters of the fire as well as locations of spot fires
  2. Maps of evacuation routes and centers, real-time traffic on surrounding roads and streets
  3. In every live shot, an overlay map showing location of camera and a cone indicating the field of view of the camera. (video without some sense of direction and view is worthless) As an example, think of the little indicator in Google Street View.
  4. High-angle helicopter shots with overlay maps indicating major streets and landmarks
  5. A dedicated "Fire Channel" (think a very specialized Weather Channel) that doesn't have to cut away for Jimmy Kimbel or The Tonight Show even as the fires continue to burn out of control.The need for fire information doesn't suddenly stop at 11:35pm.
I think this type of information would also help to dispel some the repetitve and increasingly useless chatter of the anchors trying to fill time hour after hour.

How to do it
  • It seems that there are a host of technology tools that could be used to provide some of this info. If reporters carried GPS enabled smart phones, something as relatively simple as Google Latitude could be used to monitor their location in near-realtime. Staff back at the station wouldn't have to ask their location, they could quickly confirm it and then update their maps.
  • Locations of helicopter could also be gathered automatically and then used to orient overlay maps on live video shots.
  • The use of alternative video gathering equipment can make reporters more mobile and more able to cover the story closely. Large microwave vans are difficult to manuveur and often have to seek out locations far from the fire in order to establish a connection back to their station, Microwave is line-of-sight communication and suffers greatly in mountainous terrain. Cell phone coverage can be spotty as well, but in locations live Palos Verdes, converage is probably better than the microwave opportunities.
  • Encourage reporters to "text/twitter/live stream, etc" info back to the station for a live crawl showing the most up-to-date information.
We are still covering fires much like we did in the 70's even though the world, and technology, has changed dramatically over the intervening decades. Instead of showing shot after shot of dramatic flames, let's focus on delivering the information that people need to make better decisions about their homes and their lives.

Labels: , , , , , , ,