Here’s a topic for your next journalism class: How do you handle the gasoline shortage story?
The question is worth asking because the news media contributes to the mindset that causes panic, hence shortages. Is there any way to avoid that? The story has been out there since Friday, when Hurricane Ike hit Texas. Gas stations started hiking prices and motorists flocked to pumps to top off.
Since then, TV has done numerous live shots at the tank farm in Doraville, and at metro gas stations.
On Monday, WAGA all-but ignored the gasoline shortage story. Darryl Carver’s pieces at 5 and 6 dwelt on wildly fluctuating prices. The shots of dry pumps were cursory. WXIA’s Duffie Dixon produced a piece at 11 that explained QuickTrip’s strategy of spreading gasoline inventories among geographic areas. Dixon’s piece indicated a method behind the madness of closed-down gas stations. At 4pm on WGCL, Rebekka Schramm reported on why stations reliant on the spot market pay higher wholesale prices for fuel. WGCL handled the shortage with an anchor vo/sot.
But on Monday, WSB was all about the gasoline shortage. It led its 6pm news with the story, putting Lori Geary live at the tank farm. Geary interviewed a jobber who explained that shortages are manageable as long as the public doesn’t panic. WSB followed with John Bachman, live at a gas station, with more on shortages and high prices.
At 5pm, Ross Cavitt was live at a gas station, reporting entirely on shortages.
WSB’s stories were level-headed and responsible. But here’s the question, class: Does the mere fact that WSB (or any other station) trumpets the gasoline shortage contribute to the panic that causes the shortage? If so, does the station have a responsibility to rein in its coverage? In the age of the internet, does journalistic restraint matter anymore?
Yes, WSB is covering news. It’s not creating news. The shortages are legit, as is motorist anger over prices.
But TV has been covering the story since Friday. Monday, it appeared that somebody at WAGA decided: Let’s give the shortage story a rest today. It appeared WGCL made somewhat the same decision. We say, good call.