We were all in this windy, whitish mess together, and Philadelphia's local TV news operations, generally a hotbed of fear-mongering and trivial sensationalism, dove into the new technology and did a splendid job yesterday morning of telling that story. It was one of local TV's finest hours, perhaps the best news work since the MOVE disaster of 1985.
Led by CBS3, which went new-tech crazy for Saturday's storm and kept it up yesterday, all four major stations hit news-reporting high points as they threw the kitchen sink at the big storm: big-antenna video trucks, Skype, Facebook, cell-phone video, traffic cams; creaky, old-fashioned e-mail photos; and some homegrown things so complicated only a 13-year-old could understand them.
Wait. There was a 13-year-old, Will in Malvern, broadcasting live from his backyard on Fox29, mumbling something about how he had hooked up his regular camera to his laptop and was streaming out, "like mini-TV . . . you can just broadcast."
"You are brilliant," said anchor Sheinelle Jones.
But not necessarily the world's greatest reporter. Will didn't have a lot to say about the snow. "I'm more interested in the technical end," said he.
Will and so many others, including the professional reporters and anchors, lent a real humanity to TV that has virtually vanished in the age of fake reality TV. It turns out television is still the modern version of the old general-store woodstove, where people gather to share their stories of what is going on.
Where Will was wonderful, Mike Jerrick, a talk-show host pressed into news-anchoring duties at thinly staffed Fox29, seemed sadly out of place. Reflecting the shameful us-against-them Fox cable news tradition, he told viewers, "Some of the other stations in town don't care about you. All they care about is shooting video they think you should see."
Fox could have used 10 o'clock anchors Kerri-Lee Halkett and Thomas Drayton. CBS3's Susan Barnett and Chris May dragged themselves out of bed and into the elements in Rittenhouse Square, but 6ABC's and NBC10's top anchors were missing in action. Both stations, however, had enough of those pesky professional newspeople to fill the void, showing what they thought people should be seeing
Channels 3, 6, and 10 had gobs of delightful homemade material, heavy on kids and pets. "Become an Action News reporter," 6ABC's Rick Williams urged viewers. "Send us your video." The station should give a gold star to the person who thought up "Snowtographs."
NBC10's Tracy Davidson urged viewers to contribute to the station's Web site. "You can win big," she said. "We can send you some great Olympic stuff."
At 6ABC, viewers could chat online, complete with video, with weatherman Adam Joseph.
Though there is a danger that all these newfangled gizmos will get overused like Christmas toys, they are beautifully suited to sprawling stories like the snowstorm. There is also a danger that news organizations can get carried away with the warm and cuddly and fail in their mission to convey thoroughly what is going on, but that didn't happen yesterday morning.
The stations generally hit the right mix of hard and soft, scattering reporters from Wildwood to Media to Doylestown to Trenton and demonstrating the wide variety of storm conditions.
The real reporters and weatherfolk went surprisingly easy on the gloom and doom, relating the wet and slippery facts as many of them stood out in the middle of it.
Fox29's John Bolaris, who left town after touting the Storm of the Century that never appeared in 2001, described the storm superbly as an ugly layer cake of snow, sleet, ice, rain, and then more snow.
CBS3's Ben Simmoneau and Anne-Marie Green Skyped from the shuttle taking them to their wintry posts, showing conditions in Glenside. Consumer reporter Jim Donovan cruised the city in a slightly more organized mode with "Skype Team 3," reporting with the Internet telephone-video software, a laptop, a Web cam, an iPhone, and two producers. "People out driving today, quite frankly, are knuckleheads," he said.
Oftentimes, viewers get the idea that knuckleheads are working in TV news. Not yesterday. They seemed to thrive and blossom in the adventure, combining valuable service with a little entertainment as they brought us together.