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Op-Ed: I blame you, Weather Channel

Dan Sweeney
Sun Sentinel
People walk Cherry Grove Point at dawn looking at debris scattered by Hurricane Isaias in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (Jason Lee/The Sun News via AP)

Weather Channel Graphics Department: We journalists all deal with a lot of trolling in this age of social media. And some of the trolling on the Sun Sentinel's Facebook page during our coverage of Hurricane Isaias has been a little confusing.

I'd like to state in no uncertain terms that I do not want my family killed, my home destroyed or my friends or extended family here in South Florida similarly imperiled in order to increase revenue for the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

I shouldn't have to say that, but people seem to be thinking it is so.

And, Weather Channel Graphics Department, I kind of blame you.

It seems pretty obvious that no one living in the path of a hurricane would be rooting it on, and yet, to see these Facebook comments, you'd think the entire newsroom was popping Champagne bottles as the storm wobbled in our direction.

"The local weather coverage people aren't very happy. They wanted this storm to be a monster, but it's a dud. Will have beach erosion and some shrubs to pick up," wrote one such reader, Steve Umberger. "We have enough with this pandemic, but believe it, they wanted more. It's their only time to shine with ratings."

This, of course, is untrue in that the newsroom is, as far as I know, extremely short on sociopaths. Maybe one or two, tops.

And besides, even if we take at face value the idea that more traffic means more digital ad revenue, which is not always as straight a path as you might think, everyone in editorial's getting paid the same whether the Sun Sentinel makes bank or not. There's no personal incentive to pray for rain.

And even if you're in advertising sales and getting paid on commission, no amount is going to cover the home insurance deductible when a Cat 5 peels away your roof like the top of a tuna can.

And yet, folks like Umberger seem convinced that we'd all just love to see the hammer of God dumped on our heads because more people will read. How could they have gotten that notion?

That's where we come back to you, Weather Channel Graphics Department.

The Weather Channel, in its coverage of Hurricane Isaias as the storm barreled toward Florida (note: Hurricanes always "barrel" wherever they go. It's a key piece of journalistic writing.), opted to use as one of its primary graphics a screaming red-and-white banner that read: "COVIDCANE 2020: BRACING FOR DISASTER."

Now, even at the storm's worst track, there were few people in South Florida who were BRACING FOR DISASTER. I have a pretty wide circle of friends that I haven't seen in months due to the pandemic, and I know only one family that even bothered boarding up their home.

So why are people convinced that local media is locked in some sort of suicide pact with Mother Nature?

I can't blame us — sorry, Umberger, et al., I know you'd like me to — but coverage of this storm in the Sun Sentinel, the Palm Beach Post, the Miami Herald and even the often more sensationalistic local broadcast news was pretty muted. Heck, we even ran a story about how nobody in South Florida particularly cared about this hurricane.

No, Weather Channel Graphics Department. I'm afraid I blame you. Even the locals turn to the Weather Channel when hurricanes start barreling toward Florida, and when they see this graphic, they extend your seeming disaster-hunger to us in local media who, like our friends and neighbors, have to actually endure these hellspawns.

So, in the words of sanctimonious online trolls everywhere, I'd just like to say: Do better.

— Dan Sweeney is the deputy opinions editor of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.