This Just In: The Storm Hasn't Moved an Inch Since Our Last Update!

Too many reporters, too much air time, too little news

"Somebody switch the switchers!"
"Lee, damn it, we lost video again. . . ."
"You want 5:30? I'll see what I can do."
"Look in the toolbox for. . ."
"Dial in . . ."
"Earpiece is still too loud, Charlie, super loud . . ."

But over the cacophony, one shrill voice prevailed. It belonged to a field producer from NBC. She had been having a loud, tense conversation with someone in New York. Apparently the Today show wanted center director Bob Burpee, but alas, he had already been booked by the competition. This did not make the producer happy, and she didn't care who knew it. "I've got an executive producer in New York screaming at me that Burpee isn't on the screen!" she hollered at Frank Lepore, the center's public affairs officer.

"We told NBC last night it wasn't going to happen," Lepore responded.
"Y'know, I'm getting a lot of shit for this!" she loudly shot back.
Lepore leaned forward. "Cool down," he said calmly but firmly, "because I'm not putting up with this shit."

That corner of the room grew quiet very quickly -- but only briefly. One wag chuckled: "All that over Burpee."

As the hours dragged on, so did the informal debate about Bob Burpee. What else was there to talk about? "We have to be diplomatic about this," a local TV reporter cautiously said of the center's director. "Let's just say he's no Neil Frank. Or Bob Sheets, for that matter."

"Hey, be fair, Sheets wasn't much better when he started out," a technician noted. "I mean, this guy knows his stuff. He'll get better."

Another TV reporter seemed skeptical. "He can't speak, for God's sake," she said.

"No, he can, he just sounds weird," a print reporter chimed in. "Kind of like a cross between Dennis Weaver and the guy in those Motel 6 commercials. You know, those ones where he says, 'And we'll leave the light on for ya.'"

"Jerry's where it's at," a photographer said, referring to deputy director Jarrell. "Jerry's okay. You can say 'Boo' and he'll stay there and won't freak. But the other guy, he needs help."

"Burpee kind of burps out his words," another opined. "At least Jarrell can talk. He's also more interesting to watch. When he's not talking to someone, he just sits there with this kind of sad expression, looking like a hamster that's had its wheel taken away. Then someone cues him and he sort of clicks on."

Early in the weather watch, consensus did seem to hold that Jarrell had a better on-camera presence. But by Wednesday most agreed that Burpee was becoming more media savvy. He began ending his generic updates by pointing to the camera and saying, "Back to you." And according to Channel 10's Ana Azcuy, Burpee had even used the term "sound bite" in conversation. "If he knows what a sound bite is," she noted, "he's got half the battle won already."

Azcuy may not have realized it, but with that quip she provided the perfect image: A hapless Burpee, confounded by the need to create the illusion of news, is saved by his discovery of a potent weapon, the sound bite A precisely the tool for harried news sources when there is, in fact, no news.

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