Other Voices

TV weather report drawn to drama

Tornado in downtown Fort Worth, 2000
Tornado in downtown Fort Worth, 2000 Star-Telegram

I began studying media in the 1960s when television was overtaking print as the dominant medium in society.

It was soon apparent that TV was drawn to the dramatic and that camera framing, angles and movement; editing; close-ups; special effects; selective image montage; and other tactics could enhance the drama.

Small demonstrations could look big and threatening. Isolated disasters could look huge and overwhelming.

We learned that images of real life could actually be misleading. Indeed, TV had the power to become its own reality.

When digital and satellite technology added instant communication from all corners of the globe, video images of earthquakes, floods, avalanches, ice storms, blizzards, volcano eruptions, tsunamis, dramatic rescues, devastated cities, terrorist bombings, beheadings, street shootings, destructive fires, mudslides, droughts, train derailments, police brutality, endless political polarization, shopping center attacks, school shootings, threats of sleeper terrorists — and more — became a steady stream of horribly dramatic images of destruction and trauma all day long, every day.

Even weather reporting has entered this new instant digital technology era.

New radar technology enables local weather reporters to use graphics and dramatic talk about potential severe weather to have people worried and glued to updates all day long.

I have lived in Texas almost 50 years. Every spring has been a time of unstable weather.

Many days, there would be storms in the area and we would watch for them to develop. But we went about our days fairly normally, sometimes driving through dramatic downpours that would pop up.

Once in a while a tornado warning was issued for our neighborhood, and we would have a tense night hoping we would be spared.

Three times we had roofs replaced because of hail, and sometimes a tornado would pass nearby. A few pictures the next day would prove it. And then life went on normally.

Today, dramatic approaches to reporting keep many people nervously glued to reports all day. A 20 percent chance is comforting, but a 40-50 percent chance can produce day-long anxiety.

And there is almost always some level of chance of severe storms to warn about.

To make matters even more emotional, new technology enables instant images of the destruction that has just occurred, as well as ongoing video of the most dramatic examples of damage, flash flooding, overflowing streams and lakes, and emotional stories about the people who have lost everything.

Those stories can go on for days while even more predictions of severe weather threats continue.

If you add all these daily images of a world in crisis to a constant threat of destruction of one kind or another in your neighborhood, what is the overall impact on the human psyche?

Do you feel more fortunate to be alive?

Is all this crisis information important to you? Do you feel better prepared now for personal crises?

Or, are you joining those who are experiencing a growing overall lingering sense of anxiety?

Larry D. Lauer is vice chancellor emeritus at Texas Christian University and senior fellow in TCU’s John V. Roach Honors College and Bob Schieffer College of Communication.