As Hurricane Irma lashes southwest Florida with winds exceeding 140 miles per hour and storm surges that could reach up to 15 feet, journalists’ efforts to stay on their feet as they cover the storm have spurred debate and concern for their safety.
Viewers were dismayed on Saturday when CNN’s Kyung Lah, who was nearly struck by a falling street sign while covering the storm from Miami Beach, told them: “If I didn’t have this steel railing, I’d be flying.”
Others reacted angrily as NBC News correspondent Miguel Almaguer harnessed himself to a building on Saturday morning to stay grounded while reporting through powerful gusts of wind in Florida City.
A number of news watchers have been speaking out on social media, questioning why media organizations allow their employees to work from potentially unsafe areas.
As The New York Times points out, many field reporters believe on-the-ground coverage is necessary to show the public just how dangerous storms like Irma are, and why the threats they pose should be taken seriously.
“Why would you have reporters standing potentially in harm’s way who are telling people to do exactly the opposite?” CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann, who has been covering the hurricane from hard-hit downtown Miami, asked in a recent interview cited by the Times.
“Part of that is that television is all about visual proof,” he said. “You want to persuade people that what they’re seeing is real and matters to them. And if they can see me standing out there getting knocked around, it’ll convince them that they should not do the same thing.”
Ted Scouten, a journalist for CBS4 News who’s been sharing updates on Irma from Florida City, also suggested that reporting from the scene is a risky but essential task.
“I don’t want to be that guy who dies covering the storm,” he said on Friday. “We try to be very careful as we cover these things. We want to make sure that viewers have all they information they need to keep themselves and their families safe.”
As Lah explained upon acknowledging the risks she faces while doing her job: “We take a calculated risk because we want people to know ... what is coming your way.”
President Donald Trump criticized journalists’ coverage of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated much of Houston and the surrounding area little more than a week ago. He praised members of the U.S. Coast Guard for “going into winds that the media would not go into” to rescue people affected by the storm.
But journalists also entered potentially dangerous situations while reporting on Harvey.
Take a look at the clips below, which show some of the reporters who covered Irma from Florida and beyond ― through torrential rain, floods and extreme winds.
Here’s Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Bettes struggling to stay standing in the storm:
And here’s Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Seidel:
Reporters from news networks including CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, and local broadcasters also weathered the storm for live coverage.
Widely circulated videos of professional storm chasers and meteorologists Simon Brewer and Juston Drake show the pair fighting to stay upright as they measured wind gusts reported to be at 117 miles per hour.