BOB GARFIELD: [SHOUTING] I'm standing here on the deck of my home in Virginia being buffetted by the rain and wind of Hurricane Isabel. I'm here because I live here, but it's an image that you're probably not unfamiliar with these past few days.
MAN: [SHOUTING] Yeah, are you battened down to something right now? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE] WO
MAN: [SHOUTING] It's -- yes, I'm-- I'm hanging on to a planter, and that's the only reason that I'm not blowing away. I don't know if you can see this thing, but-- [OVERLAPPING]
MAN: [SHOUTING] ...up at the top back there [LAUGHS] where our, our car was being moved --in reverse -- without -- against our will, just because of the sheer force of the winds. We're obviously getting a lot of... [OVERLAPPING]
MAN: [SHOUTING] Yeah, we're -- we're here! We're up against a generator. I think my buddy Mike took a-- I think my buddy Mike took a tumble. I can just, I can just hear the folks at home saying, "You know, they got what they deserved."
BOB GARFIELD: [SHOUTING] Not an unreasonable reaction, but -- they might also wonder -- whoever sent them?! Jerry Silbermann is one such. He's the news director of WTOC-TV in Savannah, Georgia. We spoke to him Thursday by phone just as Isabel was working up a head of steam. Larry, welcome to On the Media.
LARRY SILBERMANN: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Who do you have on the scene where the storm is making landfall?
LARRY SILBERMANN: Currently I have one of our primary anchors, Mike Manhattan, a photographer and two engineers with our satellite truck.
BOB GARFIELD: Does WTOC routinely send a crew to the landfall point in East Coast storms?
LARRY SILBERMANN: My feeling coming in was anything Richmond and south I would have sent a crew to. If it's hitting from that point south, then it would have certainly had a chance of hitting here, so therefore it ends up being high interest. What we're doing today and tomorrow and the next couple of days as much for anything for our audience is the "it could have been us" or "what could have been for us" scenario.
BOB GARFIELD: There but for the grace of God.
LARRY SILBERMANN:Correct. It's a whole lot easier to send a crew in because you are-- controlling your own destiny from a-- at least from having the hardware going in. Now any time you send crews into a storm and specifically a hurricane, high winds and rain are not the most conducive elements for live television broadcast.
BOB GARFIELD: Albeit extremely traumatic.
LARRY SILBERMANN:It is compelling television if you're able to pull it off, and if you're not-- you know -more than anything not putting crew in harm's way and that's, you know, always our first and foremost concern. I mean you know - what kind of danger are we sending a crew into.
BOB GARFIELD:Well what about that calculation? How do you decide when it's justified to send your anchor and your crew into the teeth of what is predicted to be a killer storm?
LARRY SILBERMANN: I think for us it's a little bit easier because we're in a hurricane-prone area. The management of this television station meets every week during hurricane season. We have a lot of contingencies plans. We've been through hurricanes. Unless I felt confident that our crew would have a safe shelter in worst case scenario, I wouldn't do that. We're basically right now in Petersburg, Virginia, headquartering our crew out of a shelter area. So they are in a sturdy building that's protected and high-ground so you don't have to worry about that as much. There's always a certain amount of inherent danger. I would not ever send anyone who didn't want to go.
BOB GARFIELD:You mentioned that you began gearing up for Isabel about a week ago, but within the last few days it's been quite clear that Savannah was going to be spared. How exactly will the people of Savannah be served by having Mike Manhattan on the scene at a hurricane that will never come near them? What's to be gained?
LARRY SILBERMANN: There's always lessons to be gained. You know we're documenting history. You know those who don't learn from history are, are doomed to repeat it. For a city like Savannah that's a coastal community and every year we're facing threats of hurricanes, then any time we can bring that closer to our viewers so they can see how other hurricanes are creating damage, destruction, havoc on a region, then it, it gives everyone here the greater appreciation for what they need to do next time.
BOB GARFIELD:All right. Let me ask you an obnoxious question. It's obnoxious but it's also I think the essence of the thing. If Mike and the crew come back and you've had the only Savannah coverage live from the center of the storm and they have an exciting time and they get the news, I guess it'll be high-fives all around. But if their -- you know if their truck is hit by a fallen tree or if they get caught in a flash flood and drown or something else horrible happens to them, then what are you left with?
LARRY SILBERMANN: You know I don't know that my feelings would change; if something tragic or horrible happened, you know, I'd look at it and, and go-- what did we do wrong - and move on. I've worked in all four corners of this country and I've covered just about every kind of natural disaster there is, and you know each time you learn and become smarter about it. I feel comfortable that I'm not putting someone at great, great risk here. You know we, we have a public service to, to cover news when and where it happens, and-- you know that's what we do, and it - we're a voluntary army. I mean no one was drafted in and forced to do anything. People do what they do in this business cause they love what they do.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well of course I wish Mike and the crew well and-- thank you very much for joining us.
LARRY SILBERMANN: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD:Larry Silbermann is news director at WTOC Savannah which has a crew on the scene for coverage of Hurricane or now Tropical Storm Isabel.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Up next, an American reporter who met face to face with the Iraqi resistance.