You make the call: Should stations interrupt programming for breaking news coverage?
Tornado during Dallas Cowboys game provides precautionary tale
DETROIT – If you're a football fan of a certain age, you remember the commercials showing a controversial football play, then asking you to play referee, exclaiming, "You Make The Call!"
Imagine you're watching the Detroit Lions game that took place last Sunday. In the middle of the fourth quarter, you see a meteorologist break in to tell you about a tornado warning. How would you feel? Were you glad you were getting vital information? Or were you full of four-letter thoughts that the game had been interrupted?
This scenario played out in Dallas on Sunday night, except the local station airing the Cowboys game decided not to immediately interrupt the broadcast. That tornado warning was for an EF3 twister -- with winds of 145 mph -- that was on the ground for 32 minutes. This wasn't in a cornfield in rural Texas. This tornado tore through the north side of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Luckily and surprisingly, no one lost their lives. But the station deciding to delay its weather coverage for football fans might have lost a generation's worth of trust.
The next day, management at KXAS-TV issued a statement, admitting they had made a mistake by delaying their coverage by six minutes. To be fair, they had been tracking the storms live online and gave television viewers multiple reminders of this.
As a broadcast meteorologist, it's very easy to play Monday morning quarterback, piling on the negative feedback this station received in light of its decision. Take a look at this tweet from the KXAS meteorologist during the storm, telling his audience storm coverage is available online.
We don't want to interrupt the Cowboys game on NBC 5, but @RickMitchellWX wants to keep you ahead of the storm. Watch his live update on the tornado watch by clicking here ➡️ https://t.co/Zm9xPx6SIt #NBCDFWWeather pic.twitter.com/pWy5i0nxLf— NBCDFW Weather (@NBCDFWWeather) October 21, 2019
Look at the comments below. Not a single one said, "Hey, thanks for not interrupting the Cowboys' comfortable win over the Eagles."
But there are countless examples of the opposite response: when stations interrupt popular programming and get dragged on social media for doing their job. Some of those instances have happened to this station in the not-so-distant past.
The Federal Communications Commission has granted WDIV-TV a license to operate in "the public interest, convenience and necessity." If this scenario were to play out in Metro Detroit during a highly anticipated Lions -- dare I say, "playoff" -- game, does it serve the public interest, convenience and necessity to continue showing the game or to interrupt it for everyone with continuous weather coverage?
Before the internet age, the answer was crystal clear. But with access to websites, weather apps, text messages and other digital communications, is the answer now muddied?
Having shown you the controversial play, I'm asking you to make the call.
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