Saturday, September 4, 2004

Chaos Behind the Screen

BYLINE: RACHEL SAUER, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
DATE: September 4, 2004
PUBLICATION: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
EDITION: FINAL
SECTION: LOCAL
PAGE: 5B
MEMO: HURRICANE FRANCES Media / Riding it out Ran all editions.
What you don't see on your television screen is the desk strewn with bottles of Diet Coke, newspapers, Styrofoam cups of water and stacks of loose papers printed with hurricane updates.

All you see is morning anchors Suzanne Boyd and Ric Blackwell looking calm and concerned, asking all the right questions.

What you don't see on TV is the exhausted-looking news director anticipating the arrival of a satellite truck from Chattanooga, Tenn. Or the producers bustling around wearing headphones, coordinating live feed from six reporters in the field. Or the eight people manning the call center, recruited from other departments at WPEC Channel 12.

All you see is a continuous stream of information, delivered by reporters and news anchors on a rotating schedule of 12 hours on, 12 hours off.

"We're getting a lot of raw information that we're putting on the air," said news director Steve Hunsicker. "There's really not a whole lot of editing that's done because we need to get the information out there."

After pulling an all-nighter in pursuit of "getting the information out there," Hunsicker was in search of a quick nap Friday morning on an air mattress in a quiet corner.

Channel 12's hurricane coverage includes a call center (800-721-8812) that the station opened Wednesday and has kept open almost continuously since.

People have called about everything, said Valerie Hinnegan, whose regular job is administrative assistant to general sales manager Douglas Wolfmueller, who also was staffing the call center.

"We get people who ask, 'Can you tell me, is my roof going to blow off?' Another woman said, 'I've been watching TV this morning and it looks like we're going to get a hurricane here.' And you think, have you been in a coma?" Hinnegan said.

Callers are asking about evacuating, flooding and shelter, she said. Sometimes they just want to talk about the hurricane itself.

That's something morning meteorologist Chris Farrell has been doing almost nonstop. On Friday morning, he looked into the camera and summarized the impending storm: "When the wind coupled with the rain begins, that's when you know things are really going downtown."

What you didn't see on TV was an entire newsroom hustling around, preparing for that very event. - rachel_sauer@pbpost.com

Story courtesy of and copyrighted by The Palm Beach Post

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