Monday, September 11, 2017

Levels of News in a Storm

We have to start today by reaching out once again to storm victims, this time to the people of Florida who will be cleaning up and drying out after Hurricane Irma finally passes by after several days of destructive power.  Our prayers are with those people, as they have been for those in southeast Texas a week earlier.

We have had the news on for several days, probably 8-10 hours each day including just running in the background while we went through our day here.  We live where it was originally possible that we could be in the path, then later on, we kept watching the path has the hurricane kept moving west, to see what our impact would be as well as the extent to which friends, associates and relatives were at risk.

That's a lot of news time to fill, and the network fills it daily -- in this case, all Irma, 24/7.

Over a year ago, I wrote this piece on the related issue, which was essentially the corollary -- we don't hear the most newsworthy content each day that is actually newsworthy; we hear the most newsworthy content available even if it really, well, isn't, i.e., that nothing important happened.  Something has to be on, or the network goes dark, and we know that ain't a-happening.

So here we are on the tail end of the devastation of Irma, and we have had several days, certainly through today (the 9-11 remembrance) where nothing was on the news network I watch except Irma coverage and commercials -- nothing.  When I say "nothing", that's exactly what I mean.  Not even top-of-the-hour headlines, those too were all Irma all the time.

So let's imagine that Irma had a week ago taken an easterly path and flown up the middle of the Atlantic instead, threatening no one and leaving Florida and the East Coast intact and undisturbed.

What would have been on the news?

Because the top of every hour would have had something that would have been portrayed as important, simply by virtue of its being at the top of the hour.  Yet, not only was it not at the top of the hour, we never heard about it at all!  So we have to ask ourselves just how important a given news story actually is, well, don't we?

This sort of event, wiping all else off the news calendar, unfortunately serves to remind us of the curious fact of the control that the news media have over all of us.  It may be a day when nothing newsworthy happens, forcing the elevation of events that are simply not newsworthy in the least to the top of the chain, or this weekend, when a horrific storm forces everything else off the air and we are left with an entire unaired roster of events that we did not know about.

I doubt anyone is sitting in a media office up in New York, contemplating the irony of all that.  But I hope that they do.  Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The media have their own version of absolute power, and events like this, where all other reporting is shoved to the side, expose that, however briefly.

We should do some serious thinking, one feels.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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