October 19, 2010

Ocracoke Real Estate:
TV storm hype is a disservice to islanders and visitors


With all of the tension that accompanies the prelude to a hurricane, there was a bit of comic relief offered by the business marquees in Hatteras in early September.

These clever folks were awarding an Emmy for best drama to Jim Cantore, on-location in Hatteras village for the Weather Channel. To listen to mainstream media, this Category 3 hurricane named Earl with winds between 111-130 mph was going to wreak havoc on the Outer Banks.

The reporters neglected to mention that this storm was not forecast to make landfall, but would brush by the coast some 100-125 miles out in the Atlantic. This minor little fact makes all of the difference. The truth allows residents to make informed decisions. The half truth makes for good ratings and, therefore, the Emmy.

Residing on the Outer Banks requires an acknowledgment and acceptance of the potential consequences of a storm. The same natural setting that draws people to the Banks can also have a dark side.

We learn either by experience or by neighborly advice how to protect our home, business. and vehicle. Year after year, storm after storm, the preparations do not get easier over time. The emotional side or the stress of knowing that this could be the big one is present with every storm. Our nesting instincts are placed in limbo for a period of time. Humans do not take kindly to sitting in the place of “not knowing.”

The news media has nothing at stake during a hurricane, except their ratings. The bigger the hype, the better their chances that the viewing public will stay glued to their channel.

This is my gripe – these ratings are at our expense. These reporters are like ambulance chasers or accident gawkers. They prey on the circumstance of the victim. They benefit from our misfortune. It feels like stealing to me.

These are our homes that are being used for the purpose of sensationalizing the storm, without our permission. Instead of providing facts, there is too much emphasis on the shock and awe. If property is to be lost, it would be our nests not those of the reporters. There is a disconnect between that reporter and the subject of his reporting.

Skip Waters, a local weatherman in New Bern, laid out the details of what to expect and actually provided a beneficial service. Main stream media is not a service industry.

It didn’t help that it was the five-year anniversary of Katrina. The fear, stirred in the non-banker families of the residents by this type of reporting, presents an additional stress. How many of us had to take precious minutes to quiet the hysteria of off-island/banker friends and family.

After consulting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website, even as late as Thursday morning, I made the decision that staying on the island was safe. If I watched the TV, I began second guessing myself. It was making me crazy. The TV had to be turned off.

And then there is the consequence of this exaggeration on our livelihoods. Talk about theft! We had half the Labor Day that had been expected. You wonder what might have happened had we had straight-up truthful reporting. I can’t blame our visitors for hearing the news reports and running the other way. They do not have the tools or experience to be able to sort through the hype.

As Earl made its way up the coast, The Weather Channel followed closely behind. They saw titillating news coverage. We see lives, homes, and businesses.

Fact vs. fiction and for what purpose? If only, the truth could prevail.

(B.J. Oelschlegel has lived on Ocracoke Island for more than 30 years and has worked in the real estate business for 26 years.  She is a broker with Ocracoke’s Lightship Realty and a real estate columnist for The Ocracoke Observer. You can reach her by e-mail at [email protected])

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