Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Tonight really wasn’t that much different than most Wednesday nights.

I biked a quick 20 miles, a bit less than the 21.5-mile loop I do when I have 90 minutes of daylight left.

I made an unimpressive dinner afterward, just like most every other night.

I even had a “super show” with Chip and Rush, during which we talked some baseball, among other things.

But naturally my eyes and ears have been tuned to local television and its continuous coverage of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse. I won’t bother recreating the images here, anyone with a television or an Internet connection has had a chance to see pictures of what is left of it. The disaster scene is reminiscent of the San Francisco earthquake footage from 1989.

Disasters like these remind me how important television can be, despite the sometimes brutal nonstop coverage.

I learned of the bridge collapse while driving home from the office. I was listening to the local sports radio station approximately 10 minutes after the collapse occurred. The station had an early report of a bridge collapse and put a caller on the air who said he was at the scene. My first instinct was that since it is sports radio, this was an elaborate ruse by a dopey sports fanatic. He described the scene rather well, I would learn within a couple of minutes.

I immediately tuned into local television newscasts when I got home. The stations were trying to obtain any sort of footage and information they could get as they were bouncing between their weather and sports reports. Two stations were quick to get their helicopters to the scene, two lagged behind noticeably. It was obvious which stations had helicopters in the air for some reason or another when the collapse occurred.

After watching for more than 30 minutes I decided I should take advantage of the weather and hit the road on my bike. Showers were forecast for the evening, but they didn’t look like they were going to materialize. I could have easily sat and watched three hours of coverage, but I had seen enough, particularly with anchors and reporters grasping at straws to fill the airwaves.

The Internet allows us to keep tabs on stories as they occur, but I haven’t viewed once this evening. My coverage of choice has been local television. It brings me live pictures and press conferences, something newspapers cannot do, unless they have live streaming video. And if they do, that’s only a benefit to me if I’m nowhere near a television or outside the Twin Cities.

I typically scoff at television news. Newspapers, in theory, fluctuate in size much more freely than a television news broadcast does. Even during a big news day you get the standard news broadcast at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. Maybe the weather or sports report is condensed, but there’s limited wiggle room within a 30-minute broadcast.

Tonight, of course, warranted nonstop coverage. It has been going on for more than five hours now. I appreciate it. It’s painful at times, as reporters and anchors wind up interviewing people with little to say. You end up with commentary and speculation from the news staff as well, because somehow they feel obligated to become social commentators in times like this. I don’t envy their job, but I can only watch so much before it drives me nuts.

Television provides a valuable service at times like this. Unfortunately the nonstop coverage reminds me that I have a love-hate relationship with broadcast news, (and to some extent, media in general.) I wish I hadn’t been reminded.

My friends and their children were in the Twin Cities today. Their travels took them over that very bridge in Minneapolis. Thankfully it was three hours before the collapse. Unfortunately not everyone will be able to say that.

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