Jamie York is a producer for On the Media.
How to Report a Heat Wave
Thursday, July 21, 2011 - 06:37 PM
The front page of the New York Times today has a picture of swimmers trying to keep cool, in news coverage descriptors including ‘blistering’ ‘punishing’ and ‘sweltering’ are being used to covey the heat wave affecting the Central and Eastern United States and on Tuesday at least 17 states reached temperatures of 100 degrees. Heat waves are uncomfortable and they inspire frantic metaphor searching on the part of reporters forced to cover the weather - but they’re also deadly. And estimated 22 people have already died in this most recent heat wave and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.
But who are those people exactly? And how should reporters cover the heat so that they don’t just describe the temperature but actually help keep people safe? Six years ago we talked to New York University sociologist Eric Klinenberg, author of Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. Klinenberg looked at a particularly deadly 1995 Chicago heat wave to see precisely what went wrong and how the press helped and hurt the problem. He arrived at some particularly important lessons for journalists and I’m reminded of them every summer when a heat wave strikes.