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Sandy coverage consumes TV news

Damage caused by superstorm Sandy on Woodcleft Avenue

Damage caused by superstorm Sandy on Woodcleft Avenue in Freeport. (Oct. 30, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Maybe the most important piece of information TV journalists were able to dispense in more than 36 hours of wall-to-wall coverage of superstorm Sandy was also the most obvious: You're better off inside.

"The reporter is there to be a mouthpiece for what's around them, to communicate what he or she sees and feels," said Michael Jack, WNBC/4's president and general manager. "The emergency advisories were very loud and clear about staying inside. I think every reporter was trying to get that message across."

So many of the journalists at all the area's local stations did it by example, getting battered by hurricane winds and torrential downpours on camera, in the name of telling a story that was filled with surprises -- even for veterans of hurricane coverage.

"The water surprised people with how fast it came," said Jack, who had as many as 12 teams of journalists out in the field at any given time. "In some cases, we had people stuck in the flooding."

Jim Whiteman, assistant news director for News 12 Long Island, said the station used what it had learned in Tropical Storm Irene coverage to make plans. However, the hotel in Long Beach where it positioned its journalists lost power and began to flood. News 12 also lost power at its Woodbury studios and had to use its backup generators. (News 12 is owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday.)

While the technological advances of social media and live-streaming capabilities let people watch Sandy coverage on their tablets and smartphones, for many without electricity or cell service, the old-fashioned transistor radio became an information lifeline. Several TV stations allowed radio to simulcast their coverage -- with WABC/7's broadcast airing on ESPN New York 98.7/FM, WNBC/4's broadcast on WOR 710/AM, and News 12's broadcast carried by KJOY/98.3/FM, B-103/103.1/FM, The Shark/94.3/FM and WHLI/1100/AM.

"With nine out of 10 LIPA customers without power, we were able to reach a lot of people ," said News 12's Whiteman. "It turned out to be of great service."

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