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Monday, September 26 12:00 PM ET

Cost of Covering Rita Exceeds Cost of Actual Damage

By Cody James

Austin, TX – Although officials are still tallying the damage caused by Hurricane Rita, all indicators suggest that it will still amount to less than the cost of helicopter and van fuel, hotels, DV and S-Beta tape, overtime, bottled water, Gore-Tex jackets, makeup and other expenses incurred during the news coverage thereof.

News 8 Austin reports that its yearly travel budget of $650,000 has already been exceeded, meaning that they cannot personally cover any event not within walking distance of their studios. Anything outside of that range will have to be covered either by affiliates or "citizen journalists." The station has even amended their tag line from "Your News Now," to, "Your News Soon Between West Avenue and I-35, and from 11th Street North to UT."

So costly has the depth and breadth of live, up-to-the-minute Rita coverage been that News 8 and more than 70 other outlets in the region have urged that President Bush declare a National Media Emergency and to open the spigots on the Strategic News Reserves. Housed in Baltimore, the Reserves contain more than a million hours of all-purpose footage from around the country that can be used by news agencies in crisis to cobble together uninformative, cliché-ridden reports on virtually any subject at a moment's notice.

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"If another hurricane hit, we'd be unable to cover it," said Melanie Lewis, station director. "But with footage from the reserves, we can cut to [the late] Ron Yeoman from the newsroom and still see shots of blowing debris and high winds he describes as, 'hard to describe.' It's not much, but at least we'll have something to show."

The President is in Texas today surveying damage to news-outlet budgets.

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