“Frankenstorm” – does it overhype, trivialize or neither?

“Frankenstorm” has definitely become the word of the week in the news.

It’s the word to describe a collection of storms out there, including Hurricane Sandy, which seems to be roaring towards the east coast.

However, on Friday, CNN decided to ban the term from its media coverage, citing it doesn’t want to trivialize the impact the storm has made thus far.

It is a valid argument, since using the term equates the storm to a popular mythological character.

Other media coverage compared the storm to a “pre-Halloween hybrid weather monster.” Calling the storm a monster can make it seem like something fictional out of a horror movie, as opposed to a storm that is actually happening.

But, personally, I feel that using the term can have the opposite effect as well. Labeling the storm with such a scary-sounding name can hype up the story, which begs the question. Is the media overhyping the storm in its coverage?

Weather experts say no. But as the CBC reported, Environment Canada’s chief climatologist said that “naming like this is really trying to shake up the general public.”

Folks who believe “Frankenstorm” is being overhyped took to Twitter to voice their thoughts.

While hyping up a storm can help the public prepare, it also runs the risk of eliciting unnecessary fear. Remember “Snowmageddon” in 2011? It didn’t match up to what it was expected to be.

The debate over whether the media overhypes hurricanes and storms is nothing new. When Hurricane Irene hit last year, it too didn’t meet the expectations, leading reporters to criticize their peers, saying “that the media had overhyped Irene and caused millions needless fear.”

Julie Moos wrote an interesting piece for Poynter.org called “The 6 criteria for hype & why Hurricane Irene does not meet them,” in which she provides an excellent way to assess whether the media has overhyped a story. She lists the six criteria as follows:

  • Amount of coverage: How much time and space is this news occupying?
  • Dominance of coverage: Is this news taking over a platform (website, newscast, front page) and/or dominating several platforms?
  • Prominence of coverage: How prominent is this news? Is it leading a newscast, on the front page?
  • Type of coverage: Is the news trivial or vital? Are respected newsmakers acting as if it’s vital? Is the event unexpected, rare?
  • Tone of coverage: How urgent is the message, how intense the delivery? Are the graphics and images conveying crisis?
  • Context of coverage: What else could or should be receiving our attention instead?

Going back to Hurricane Sandy, I do agree that referring to it as a fictional monster runs the risk of backfiring. Besides that, it’s not even accurate. Shouldn’t it be Frankenstein’s Monstorm instead?

So, what do you think? Has the media overhyped or trivialized the storm? Or has the media covered it how it should? Feel free to share your thoughts.

Journalism , , , ,


  1. In the northeastern part of New York, Irene was devastating! There are some businesses that have not reopened yet a year later. People lost their homes and their government benefits are/have expired. I don’t think Irene was hyped up enough.
    I agree that weather media tend to sensationalize way too much, but with Katrina and then Irene, if this is really a freakish nor’easter, people need to be scared a little so they’ll be prepared.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Pam! If there’s a freakish of event, there’s no question people need to have a higher sense of hypervigilance and preparedness than usual.

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