Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In defense of the national news media on the Nashville flood: they effectively triaged the tragedies

Based on a recent Pew study, it looks like a lot of local frustration with the national news media over the low-level coverage of the May 2 & 3 Nashville flood was misplaced given that news consumer demand was almost exclusively trained on British Petroleum's deep water oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:
public interest in the Gulf saga may have even exceeded the level of mainstream media coverage. According to surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, often between 50% and 60% of Americans said they were following the story "very closely" during these 100 days. That surpassed the level of public interest during the most critical moments of the health care reform debate.
The Nashville flood occurred less than 2 weeks into the greatest environmental disaster in history. The oil spill story dominated the news for 100 days because the public interest in it was insatiable. The flood came, receded, and recovery happened for much of Nashville. The spill just kept going for weeks and weeks into an uncertain future.

Unless we are going to be cynical and call Nashville's criticism of the national media an attempt to outflank the more important Gulf story then the criticism of diverted media focus in May was uninformed or insensitive. If we were to put ourselves in the news media position back in May and triage the tragedies, we can only conclude that national demand for Nashville news was much lower than that for word on impending disasters along the coastal communities of Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and Texas and within the environment itself.

As it was, star-studded Nashville ended up getting more than its share of national media attention--once CNN's Anderson Cooper felt guilty--given the relative magnitudes of the disasters.

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