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A winter tradition: TV news hot on hype but sub-zero on substance

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Getting cold out there.  Autumn’s over. Did you see the weather they got in Minnesota? Won’t be long before we see some of the “white stuff.”

 

Polar vortex is on its way.

 

I’d wager most folks couldn’t explain what a polar vortex is, but they like saying “polar vortex.”

 

Can we please stop? Seriously.

 

This is Chicago.

 

We experience four seasons. Winter is one of them. It’s mid-November and it’s getting cold. Shocking.

 

Of course, the local news broadcasts feed this silliness. Years ago, I don’t remember newscasts leading with weather stories unless we were in for a “grind the city to a halt” type storm.

 

But now, any threat of snow, any significant drop in temperature and weather is the star of the TV news.

 

Last week, I caught the national news and weather was genuinely the story in places like Minnesota and some Great Plains’ states where the temperature dropped to below freezing in mere hours. Sheets of ice blanketed the roads in some places. Winter weather had arrived with little warning.

 

Real news, to be sure.

 

We escaped the deep freeze here in the Chicago, but it was getting colder and that certainly deserved news coverage.

 

News anchors chatted with the weatherman, feigning disappointment about the end of warmer temps. Everyone was resigned to the fact that autumn was over.

 

But news coverage of the onset of winter is only the opening act. The real fun begins when we finally get the first big snowstorm.

 

Breaking news. It’s snowing in Chicago. Dispatch the reporters and the camera crews.

 

They follow the same template year after year and year.

 

Images of snowplows clearing the streets and maybe few words from the guy who drives the plow. Talk to the city dweller who spent hours shoveling snow in front of his house and used kitchen chairs to reserve the space. A long-held Chicago tradition, we’re reminded.

 

Real news would be footage of a driver getting out of his car, moving the chairs and parking in the “reserved” spot, leading to a fight with the guy who shoveled the snow.

 

“Snow fall leads to brawl. Tonight at 10.”

 

Instead, it’s more of the usual.

 

A reporter is stationed along the side of a highway or on one of the overpasses. Traffic is snarled as a result of the snow. Who knew? And by the way, if you don’t have to go outside….don’t.

 

Of course, what’s wall-to-wall weather coverage without getting a reporter to Home Depot or a similar store? The unprepared masses are buying shovels, snow blowers, salt, and the like. “What brings you out tonight?” the reporter asks a shopper. We eagerly await the response.

 

Sometimes, a reporter will check in on the grocery stores as well. Some people are stocking up on the staples before supplies run out. The dawn of the apocalypse is upon us. Ready yourselves.

 

And let’s not forget to talk to the tow truck drivers putting in double and triple shifts as well as the folks whose cars are stuck in the snow.

 

And no one can say the TV reporters aren’t prepared for the elements. Big, goofy hats with earflaps, ski gloves and boots suitable for someone taking a team of dogs into the artic are all part of the garb. And despite the garb, reporters still look cold and miserable.

 

It will happen this year just like every other year. We expect it, I suppose, and that’s why the TV news feeds it to us. Plus, in a town with several newscasts, one station can’t afford to downplay the first flake that falls from the sky.

 

So get ready. It’s getting cold out there. Winter’s upon us.

 

The TV news told me so.