brian_clareyby Brian Clarey

I blame it on TV news.

We all know it’s January, and we all know that winter weather, even here in North Carolina, is a near certainty every year. Sometimes we get some snow. It’s not all that big of a deal.

But TV news has hours and hours of airtime to fill every day, and a garden-variety winter snowstorm, it seems, is capable of filling them all.

They talked about it for days on all four local news stations: animated maps, dire warnings, suggestions for surviving the snowfall, ghastly predictions about the roads and the power lines.

Who can blame the yokels for freaking out?

But really, we got a couple inches. And I’m pretty sure nothing exploded.

And yet the snow coverage continues: B-roll of sledders and salt trucks, instructions for scraping ice off the car, endorsements of fireplaces and hot chocolate and other inanities.

It doesn’t seem to be designed to give people an accurate picture of what’s coming, more like a means to make people so afraid that they don’t change the channel.

So can we cut a deal here? I say that TV news dials down the winter fearmongering just a bit, forsaking breathless doomsaying for some levelheaded weather reporting: an estimate of predicted snowfall, some comparisons to previous storms, maybe some straight-up dope on what roads are open and what schools and businesses are closed — most of which can be accomplished by the information crawl on the bottom of the screen.

Not every storm is the Big One, but when every storm gets the Blizzard of the Century treatment, the TV news is not fulfilling its mission of keeping people informed via the public airwaves. They’re not even keeping people safe, which is the way one local TV news station describes its mission, because of the frenzy created among the viewers, who then stampede the local stores for French toast makings and ammunition.

I’m not saying omit storm and weather coverage altogether; I’d estimate half the viewership tunes in for that stuff. But TV stations need to remember that they are purveyors of news — that’s why they’re allowed to use the public airwaves to make money — and not in the business of selling generators.

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