Early Sunday morning, Bill Weir, a veteran CNN correspondent, was talking to the anchor Chris Cuomo in the middle of a live shot in Key Largo, Fla. He could barely stand up straight in the lashing winds of Hurricane Irma. At one point, he was nearly blown over by a gust.
@CNN: CNN's @ BillWeirCNNgets slammed in Key Largo by # HurricaneIrma's wind gusts as the storm's eyewall reaches the Florida Keys
As video of the incident spread on social media, criticism mounted. "Why do these news networks feel the need to put these reporters out there?" read one tweet. Another said: "This is not safe. Lead by example."
Others pointed out that reporters were standing in conditions that they were advising residents to stay out of. Even Mr. Cuomo acknowledged the criticism: "There is a strong argument to be made that standing in a storm is not a smart thing to do."
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@brianstelter: >> @ ChrisCuomoon CNN just now: "There is a strong argument to be made that standing in a storm is not a smart thing to do."
Mr. Weir was one of many television journalists facing potentially unsafe conditions in covering the hurricane. Hours later, over at MSNBC, the correspondent Mariana Atencio stood on a boulevard in Miami and pointed to a large tree that had fallen across the street, as other trees bowed in the wind alongside her, raising the question of whether her team was in danger. And around noon, Kyung Lah, a reporter for CNN, said on the air from Miami Beach, "If I didn't have this steel railing, I'd be flying."
@NorahODonnell: "Possibly twice my height coming up here ... everywhere you go here in Naples are communities like this." @ JonVigliotti@ CBSThisMorning
The tradition of television crews standing in the middle of a dangerous storm goes back decades, reflecting the hunger to be on the scene for a nationally significant event. But the news value of dangerous stand-ups — in which a correspondent is seen in the field talking to the camera — is increasingly being questioned, particularly with the rise of social media. Some critics wondered whether they are unnecessary and overly sensational spectacles, especially in cases where correspondents are struggling to deliver information.
But those same field reporters insist that the visuals from the storms are essential in persuading people to take hurricane threats seriously and getting them to leave the area. At the same time, veteran reporters say they take every precaution to stay out of life-threatening situations. On CNN, John Berman, in Miami, described flying debris nearby and took pains to say that he didn't believe he was in serious danger.
"It's blowing in the other direction, just so you know," he said.
One MSNBC studio anchor, Ali Velshi, addressed the issue directly, saying before 10 a.m. that he wanted to pause the coverage: "I want to take a quick break. I want to reset. I want to find out that our reporters are safe."
The custom of reporters broadcasting live from hurricanes began with Dan Rather, the former CBS News anchor, in 1961. Working for KHOU in Houston, he broadcast the first live radar image of a hurricane — Hurricane Carla — on television and took to the streets to show the conditions firsthand. CBS took the broadcast live, giving viewers around the country their first look at the threat posed by such a storm. Pictures of Mr. Rather wading through waist-high water propelled his rise to network anchor.