While watching Sunday’s news coverage of the rising flood waters in Houston, I felt my heartbeat rise while CNN reporter Ed Lavandera perched aboard a boat floating outside the home of a family needing to be rescued. While following the flood story from a volunteer’s rescue boat, Lavandera and the others came upon an elderly couple and their adult daughter trapped inside their home. It wasn’t a big surprise to see Mr. Lavandera update news anchor Ana Cabrera about the activities and then put his microphone down to help the first elderly person get into the boat. Sometimes by virtue of their circumstances, reporters step up and above their duty to report what’s happening. Mr. Lavandera also helped ease the family dogs onto the tiny vessel.
But the event began to turn awkward as the rescuers were stalled waiting for the elderly woman to be brought out. The wait continued for a moment longer when Mr. Lavandera explained that the woman had Alzheimers, which was complicating bringing her out of her flooded home to safety.
Quietly, Mr. Lavandera signaled to news anchor Cabrera that they needed a moment to allow the rescue to take place, signaling that he would stop live broadcasting this dramatic moment. Cabrera subtly acknowledged her colleague’s signal and the scene returned to Cabrera at the news desk. Moments later, a return to the rescue showed the family, their pets and the CNN crew safe and together on the boat, with Mr. Lavandera respectfully interviewing a very relieved daughter.
Sometimes less is so much more. Mr. Lavandera never stopped being a journalist; in fact, he demonstrated the power of journalism – telling a compelling story with respect and decency. Mr. Lavandera balanced his reporting with humanity and without leveraging anyone’s heartbreak or fear. He told the story, paused and caught up with it again a few minutes later.
TV journalists have different requirements than those who work in print. They must have pictures. It’s TV. But for just a few moments, the most powerful image during the rescue was that of Ed Lavandera and Ana Cabrera choosing decency over sensationalism.