Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Letters to the Editor

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Letters to the Editor

Article excerpt


Anthony J. Dukes's Winter 2004 Forum column on "The FCC and Media Regulation" is unsatisfactory in its analysis of corporate cost-cutting.

Dukes cites the example of Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcasting's consolidation of costs by hiring one Baltimore employee to do the local weather in both Flint, Michigan, and Birmingham, Alabama (my hometown).

I am a meteorologist and the teacher of meteorologists, and I know first-hand the many consequences of such cost-cutting.

First, significant safety issues are involved. Both Birmingham and Flint have been the sites of massive and deadly tornado outbreaks. The june 8, 1953, Flint tornado was the last single American tornado to kill more than 100 people and was voted in a National Weather Service poll of citizens and experts as the worst natural disaster to hit Michigan during the entire twentieth century. The April 8, 1998, Birmingham tornado killed thirty-two and narrowly missed the city's downtown center. The Birmingham viewing area has suffered about 300 tornado deaths since 1916.

Do the million-plus residents of the Flint and Birmingham areas want or deserve life-saving weather warning information coming from someone in Baltimore who doesn't know their cities? The consumers are not fully informed; the television watchers in Flint and Birmingham are presumably not told that their Sinclair weatherman is located almost 1,000 miles away. Viewers may not be able to recogni/.e the difference between expert local service and remote-control cost-saving service until it is too late to change the channel.

Second, during severe weather situations, which city will the Sinclair employee focus on: Flint or Birmingham? Widespread severe weather outbreaks that blanket the continent from Alabama to Michigan simultaneously are not unheard of. I know from discussions with television meteorologists and National Weather Service employees that in such fast-breaking weather situations, it is nearly impossible to keep up with the severe weather just in one's own state or vicinity - let alone half a continent. What is Sinclair's policy in such cases? Who gets warned and who doesn't? Why didn't Dukes ask?

Third, on a more personal note, consolidation has created what one national meteorology columnist has called "The Great Depression" in broadcast meteorology employment, a field in which entering annual salaries were generally below $20,000 already.

In summary, I believe that the Sinclair approach to television weather is a disservice to the public and may cost lives someday soon. The risks are hidden from the public via the subterfuge of a "local" meteorologist who really works for multiple television stations out of an office in Baltimore. As with so many other examples of cost-cutting, it sounds wonderful until you realize that you have completely erased your safety margin in critical situations just to save a few bucks. I remember a time when the airwaves were considered a public trust instead of an opportunity to further engorge the coffers of media conglomerates.

Finally, as the teacher of nowunemployed meteorologists, I think of consolidation in very personal terms that may resonate with more and more outsourced and downsized Americans in the coming years: what good is all this cost-cutting if you are unemployed and can't afford the service even at its new, reduced price?

John Knox

Athens, Georgia


This letter is a response to the Winter 2004 issue "Is Democracy in Danger?"

For three-hundred-plus years, the people of what is now the United States shared the blood, sweat, and tears of the successes and failures that occurred. They built a rich and powerful nation while at the same time defeating some of the worst tyrants in the world's history.

However, this great nation is weakening from within. We are becoming a nation of wimps, weaklings, and dependents. …

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