From the General Manager

An obligation to warn

Posted May 17, 2010

I want to take a moment to write about a topic that hundreds of you wrote to us about: pre-empting 17 minutes of the "Survivor" finale.

Those who wrote were very upset. Although, I did not see one e-mail complaint from anyone who was about to be impacted by the storm.

As inconvenient as it may seem to viewers who are not in the path of the storm -- there is no BAD time to save someone's life.

In return for the right to use public airwaves, WRAL and other broadcasters pledge to serve the community. Providing life-saving information during severe weather is one of the greatest obligations we have, and WRAL has a clear and consistent history of putting viewers' lives ahead of any other programming commitments.

It's not easy, it's not clean, it's sometimes very unpopular with a majority of unaffected viewers -- but it's the right thing for us to do.

There were several themes from the comments of our loyal viewers. I will try to respond to them.

While television relies heavily on the visual component, a crawl or un-narrated split-screen effect is not enough when a tornado warning has been issued. WRAL employs highly trained meteorologists to make sense of radar images and time-sensitive information from the National Weather Service. The very best way to convey that information quickly and thoroughly is for a meteorologist to go on the air to explain what is happening at that very second.

When tornadoes rip through neighborhoods -- seconds can make a huge difference. Taking additional time to type and air a crawl or set up a split screen visual effect is simply not acceptable in the case of a tornado warning. Time is too critical.

Forcing viewers to try to interpret radar information themselves deprives them of the detailed, street-level data that can only be provided quickly and clearly by a meteorologist on the air live, in real time.

Despite the obvious programming flexibility that comes with our additional digital channels -- nothing trumps our obligation to protect viewers in the WRAL viewing area.

Splitting our programming sets up a no-win scenario, and whether we chose to push weather information OR entertainment programming over to a channel such as WRAL.2 -- a sizable number of our viewers would miss out on critical weather information.

We are simply not willing to choose which viewers will get the information that might save their lives. Every viewer deserves that information, whether it is pertinent to their home at the moment or not.

Many of you also complained about repetition. There are two aspects to this.

The first is the fact that we know not everyone watches us at the beginning of a report. We have new viewers constantly coming to the television set who need the information.

Secondly, radar needs to cycle to show the movement of the storm. To go on the air and simply say a tornado is on the ground at a single location is only part of our obligation. That's clearly important, but the path of the storm is just as important and could potentially save many more lives.

It's like the difference between a tornado snapshot and a tornado movie. One shows what's happening at one moment in one location, while the other shows where the storm is headed and who is in the likely path. Determining the path of a storm takes time, even with powerful radars and other technology.

Our goal is to provide the most accurate, timely information possible. In the case of tornadoes, that means we must wait to see where the storm is headed. It does take time, but it pays dividends in giving viewers more time to take cover. We're comfortable with that trade-off.

I assure you that after this type of event we review our policies and procedures keeping our core mission of protecting lives at the top of the list.

I apologize for the inconvenience the majority of you felt during "Survivor." But as you can tell from the picture of the storm damage, some people were even more greatly inconvenienced last night--they are the real Survivors. It was our obligation to warn them.

34 Comments

This story is closed for comments. Comments on WRAL.com news stories are accepted and moderated between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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  • nlockamy May 25, 12:05 a.m.

    I too get upset over repeated things. I too would be glad to know what was going on if the bad weather was going to effect me. why not stop programming and then start it back where it was stopped? we woulde hear the reports and still see our shows. sounds pretty simple to me.

  • robzero May 22, 2:40 p.m.

    This is how it is, people pay $$$ to see television programming. Whether its WralTV news or Survivor, they pay money to view television programming.If a person watches a whole season of ones program on said channel mind you that they could wathc any other of the competitors tv programming but they don't they watch Wral to see the scheduled program and when its final show of the season which in this case was the most important show was constantly interrupted by thunderstorm warnings. We as americans have the right to question what the station plans to do for its viewers programming that is getting cut out because of unfortunate weather alerts. No one is saying ignore severe weather we are saying what is the plan for re-programming or maybe even rescheduling this season finale show so its loyal viewers can watch it.By saying " Get a Life its only TV!" is like me saying "Don't live in a modular homes during tornado season..."see nobody is saying remove the alerts just don't cut our shows.

  • acc_blood May 20, 10:47 a.m.

    From chach2r: "May I add that all of you, Get a life, It's only TV. Who the heck are you to tell people how to live! If you are so wonderfully fulfilled with the way your life is then hurray for you. But if you are a pompass you know what, Then get off the computer & go live your life. Don't think that your life or idea's about life are everyones. Thank you."

    I can only hope that this entire post was supposed to be satire. If not, I think we have our winner for Narcissist of the year.

    I also find amusing that individuals with time to post comments on a 4 day old story tell others to "get a life."

    and finally, I like those that say others are over-reacting because "it's just TV." That's right. When I turn on my television, I actually expect to watch TV.

    WRAL knows these massively long pre-emptions are wrong. Otherwise, the GM wouldn't dedicate a blog entry defending it.

  • chach2r May 19, 2:12 p.m.

    May I add that all of you, Get a life, It's only TV. Who the heck are you to tell people how to live! If you are so wonderfully fulfilled with the way your life is then hurray for you. But if you are a pompass you know what, Then get off the computer & go live your life. Don't think that your life or idea's about life are everyones. Thank you.

  • chach2r May 19, 11:58 a.m.

    I'd like to know when they are going to start interupting people that are online.

  • chach2r May 19, 11:17 a.m.

    I think I can speak for most, We understand & we are concerned when a bad storm or tornato's are happening. I think the problem lies more with missing our/there shows. If they would replay the show that they've been waiting all week, Cancelling other events in there lives just to go home and watch or record if able.
    I don't see how the split screen or scrolling words on the bottom to tune into another non-prime time channel, Like the local access channels would not suffice. I feel the same way when the president is on. Sometimes the information doesn't interest me & I wish to watch something else. Also living here in North Carolina our power goes out if it's just alittle windy. So by the time there is a tornato in the area, The only way we are advised is on the radio. PS. The last time I did watch the inturpted weather update, After about 10 minutes, The person telling us about the tornato or bad storm, They run out of things to talk about & start in on how a tornato form & such. W

  • lorivalentine1 May 18, 7:30 p.m.

    Unfortunately it is not surprising so many people complained... People are selfish and only concerned with themselves.
    It's a tv show peopele who really cares??

  • ccw7 May 18, 5:39 p.m.

    I want to say thank you for keeping the viewers informed-I was not affected but I have family and friends all over the state-you can always watch a re-run of the shows, but you can not replace a life-I lived in Missouri growing up so I know how bad storms can get-so I have always paid attention whether it affects me or not-keep up the good work WRAL

  • acc_blood May 18, 5:03 p.m.

    Your argument for repetition is thin at best. I had DVRed the Amazing Race finale. You showed the same 4 images 18 times - EACH - during that period. Including the graphic that warned to keep away from windows in a tornado.
    Your argument that this is saving lives - also thin. I've lived here 25 years, and this mass pre-emption is fairly new (2 or 3 years). I don't seem to recall dozens of deaths before - or even 1 - during primetime or daytime tv. Your old system worked. So what's changed? Your meteorologists' toys.

    Your meteorologists may find the "street-by-street" ability of your radar system fun to play with, but it's just a toy.

    If I live at the corner of Six Forks Road & the beltline, and a typical Greater Raleigh map is displayed, and I see this bright red blob where 6 forks and the beltline are; I'm not waiting around for you to "dive in" and show me my intersection across the whole screen. I'm going for cover.

  • ou8122 May 18, 4:17 p.m.

    Make that, no HARM, no foul.

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