Broadcast Journalism Shines In Hurricane Sandy's Dark Path

By Edward Esposito, Vice President, Rubber City Radio Group

Just how important is broadcast journalism?

Think of it as a lifeline when everything else is unreliable or simply out of the question. It is a time when every available person in your station has a common goal, regardless of whether they're program, sales or administrative: it's the time to serve the public by acting as both the conduit for official news and information and to make sure that information flows in both directions.

This the time when local radio -- news and information, music, sports, talk, whatever the format -- not only meets the obligation of public service called upon when we get our licenses to do business using the people's spectrum but also the time when the "what if this happens?" is answered by the professionals staffing America's radio and television outlets.

I still recall NBC's Brian Williams offering high praise to his colleagues working post-Katrina for the incredible work making sure citizens knew where to find shelter, and potable water, and food supplies, and most of all hope that help wasn't just on the way but that they weren't being forgotten by their neighbors around the corner as well as around the globe. Mr. Williams specifically lauded the work of the people at WWL, but his words also cover those at competing radio and television operations who took down the walls of competition in favor of public service.

Radio stations, in particular, offer the public a unique flow of information they simply cannot find anywhere else. Even when cell and wireless systems fail during severe weather, there's still that broadcast tower nearby or at a neighboring city providing the information people need when situations are at their worst. Power systems go out, but battery-operated radios continue to provide that link to the outside world when the only thing those in harm's way hear is the freight-train winds outside or even the whine of chain saws helping to clear the aftermath. Even sitting in a car offers individuals and families the link they'll need to finding the help they require.

These are the times when local radio stations are reminded the reason we got our license to do business on the airwaves isn't about ratings or revenue; it's about responsibility to the public. We've seen this play out again and again during hurricanes in the Gulf; wildfires in the West; tornado damage in the Midwest and blizzards in the North. It is a universal information superhighway that connects us all at the same time, a true broadcast platform designed to get to the people what is always in short supply: credible information that can save lives, and help ease suffering.

These are not easy times for our broadcast colleagues in the path of Hurricane Sandy and it's aftermath; they will be tried and tested with long hours, dwindling resources and the heavy burden of giving voice to those who must be heard and making sure those in authority are listening. But what they -- and we -- do during these times matter. It's why any discussion of local, regional and national emergency planning must take into account the ability and resolve of local broadcasters to do exactly what we promised to do when getting that license: serve the public.

So to our station owners, thank you for keeping your eyes on the community and providing the resources your people need to help the people you serve. To local emergency officials, thank you for making sure the power stays on with generators -- even when fuel supplies aren't easy to be found -- because it's still the fastest and most efficient way to get life-saving information to the people you serve. To the thousands of broadcasters charged with getting the word to people in danger and to communities in the dark, thank you for doing what we do best.

Other Resources:

FCC Says Hurricane Sandy knocked out 25 percent of cell towers in its path