For several hours throughout New Years Day most Portland television stations went live to on-scene 'Storm Team' reporters. (The 'scenes', besides being convenient places to stop the truck and set up the shots, were of dubious importance). The 'story' was the much over-hyped New Year's Day Storm of 2004, an easy ratings bonanza on an otherwise 'slow news day'.
During live television 'team coverage' of the weather, an ironic thing occurred on Portland's KPTV-12. One local reporter had staked out her spot on a Portland freeway overpass with a cameraperson, a satellite feed to the broadcast room, and a stack of pre-made snowballs, which she continually threatened to unleash on any ne'er-do-wells who might happen by.
As one man passed the reporter's spot on the bridge, she jabbed the microphone in his face and breathlessly inquired what the man thought of the snow.
"I'm homeless!" he responded, before adding that, "You people in Portland don't know what snow IS!"
The casual observer of this exhange may not have noticed the blood rushing from the reporter's face as she realized her bad luck at having inadvertently uncovered a real story, and how urgently she realized she had to get herself out of reporting it. While the gentleman continued to answer questions that the reporter never asked, with comments such as, "I woke up this morning covered in snow" and "Tonight I might sleep under a bridge", the reporter and two in-studio news anchors stumbled over themselves to end the conversation and move back to the main news of the day. The man was still talking, even though no one, (save me, bored at home), were listening.
In short, the story was about snow. And snowmen. And how much kids like the snow. And how hard it is to drive in snow. And how much business the tire companies are doing putting snow tires on peoples' cars. And how, if you don't absolutely have to be on the road, it is best to stay home, if you have one.
The inconvenient face of a real person suffering from the cold who has no choice but to sleep in it has no place on local television news and, when it accidentally invades a live broadcast, must be removed from the screen at once.
Here's to that nameless man. And here is to all of the people of Portland who are living with homelessness, the estimated 2000 people who live on the streets of a city with less than 400 shelter beds and a government that pretends it is doing something about the problem. This should be the easiest story to report on a 'slow news day'. A reporter might literally trip over the story on the way to setting up the live feed for the 'Storm Team' coverage.
Will this change in 2004?