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News Teams Improvise for Hurricane Gustav

Aug 31, 2008  •  Post A Comment

With a major hurricane moving toward New Orleans and the Louisiana Gulf Coast, CBS News anchor Katie Couric is departing the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., while other TV and cable networks shuffle anchors and correspondents to cover the storm.
The changes reflect the demands placed on news networks that are scrambling to cover back-to-back presidential conventions and a looming natural disaster that could rival Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.
The long-planned schedule of the Republican National Convention is going through major changes as Hurricane Gustav approaches U.S. landfall. The latest word is that neither President George W. Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney will attend the convention Monday, when both were planning to speak.
It’s not yet clear if their speeches will be canceled or instead by delivered by satellite.
The schedule changes are forcing broadcast and cable network news teams to improvise.
CBS announced Sunday that Ms. Couric, who had been scheduled to anchor the network’s Republican convention coverage, would instead journey to the Gulf Coast and report and anchor “The CBS Evening News” from there starting Monday.
Harry Smith, co-anchor of CBS’ “The Early Show,” who had been set to be in New York after co-anchoring from Denver during the Democratic convention, also will co-anchor from the Gulf Coast starting Monday.
Jim Lehrer, executive editor and anchor of PBS’ “The NewsHour,” also left St. Paul on Sunday and will anchor the show on Monday from the show’s normal Washington, D.C., area studio.
Fox News Channel, meanwhile, shifted anchor Shepard Smith from St. Paul to New Orleans, along with correspondent Steve Harrigan, daytime anchor Trace Gallagher and correspondent Jon Scott.
Mr. Smith has covered numerous hurricanes and extensively covered Hurricane Katrina for Fox in 2005. He will report not only for his “Studio B” program but also for the network’s other programming.
Jay Wallace, Fox’s VP of news operations, said covering a hurricane at the same time as covering back-to-back political conventions is a challenge, but one that the network can certainly deal with.
“It’s an obstacle, but something that we were built for anyway,” he said.
Mr. Wallace said TV technology has improved dramatically since Katrina.
Fox will have more extensive ability to transmit video via the Web and computer lines, he said. That offers the prospect of correspondents airing pictures even before the satellite trucks that provide the best pictures roll to the scene.
Fox News Channel also will do extensive coverage on Monday from the hurricane area.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who had been scheduled to go to St. Paul, instead went to New Orleans on Friday.
CNN political director Sam Feist said with the exception of Mr. Cooper, most of the CNN personnel assigned to cover the hurricane came from outside the convention.
“We are adapting, not diverting resources from here,” Mr. Feist said from St. Paul. “We are leveraging our resources from the bureaus.”
Mr. Feist said CNN’s technology has developed beyond its capabilities when Katrina hit, giving correspondents the ability to transmit video on cell phone frequencies and to use smaller cameras.
(Editor: Baumann)
(6 p.m.: Updated throughout)

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