Some thoughts on mainstream media coverage of today’s earthquake in California
Crap! Now writing this a second time – I accidently hit the “back arrow” button on my keyboard before I saved the draft!
First off – I’m OK. So is my home. As is my family – they’re farther from the epicenter that I am.
The quake woke me. I rode it out in bed, which was shaking gently, while being alert to jump to a door frame if it got any heavier. It lasted 20-25 seconds and would have actually been pleasant had I not felt certain that it meant likely far more severe effects for others.
I was on Twitter within two minutes – and I was NOT the first! Close (one of the first 10 tweets using the hash tag #earthquake), but not first.
As I started scanning various media (about 5 minutes after the quake), here’s what I found:
- Twitter was the first I saw, but our local 24/7 AM radio news station was likely as quick. KCBS has live hosts and producers 24×7.
- Initially KCBS coverage was entirely speculation interrupted by callers with their personal reports. This is understandable as NONE of our local outlets have reporters in the field 24/7. And even if they did, it would be quite unlikely that they would have been anywhere close to the affected area. Face it, breaking news in the Bay Area rarely comes from the affected area. To their great credit, KCBS did have the first interviews with seismologists and public safety agency representatives.
- Next to appear was a Google Alert – with coverage initially mostly drawn from Twitter, but updated with other coverage fairly soon.
- Local TV outlets took longer. Again, this is understandable given this happened at a time (3:22 AM on a Sunday morning) when all of them are showing pre-recorded and (mostly) paid programming. I doubt ANY of them normally has anyone involved in programming – producer, technician, or personality – on site at that time.
I do quibble with the initial TV visuals – what I saw during early TV coverage was either:
- Still pictures I’d already seen on Twitter – WITHOUT attribution! Or
- Screen grabs from websites, mostly USGS, which I’d already seen either by seeking them out myself or following tweeted links.
- But what upset me most was 2 stations who had rotating visuals from web cams – none of which were from anywhere close to the affected area
Double Crap! I just hit that dastardly “back arrow” key again! At least I’d done a bit of manual “save draft”ing. And I just took a look at the wordpress.com settings – there is NOT setting to auto save drafts periodically! Anyway …
But it wasn’t the local coverage that compelled me to set myself down in front of the keyboard today. Even the national coverage by itself (and which I’ll be commenting on) didn’t upset me enough. What tilted the balance toward “I need to write about this” was a couple of Twitter conversations I saw, plus one in which I participated, where one (or more) of the involved Tweeps were indignant that MSNBC had NOT switched to wall to wall earthquake coverage. As I didn’t think I could argue my side well in the limiting confines of 140 character tweets (less links and mentions), here I am.
Nationally, I’ve seen (or heard about) 2 general broadcast network media responses:
- Continuing normal programming, but injecting short updates at the top of each hour, with updates replacing what would normally be teaser segments. (MSNBC only)
- Wall to Wall coverage that consisted, at least initially, of 98% titillation, occasionally interrupted by new information. (All the others)
Of these, I think – in a better media environment (I’ll get to this later) – the first choice was the correct one.
When all else is said and done, I think we’ll look back on today’s quake as a small, mostly local disaster. I don’t want to play down the pain and suffering that those affected are going through, nor the agony that is undoubtably being experiences by their friends and family across the nation.
But face it. It’s not a NATIONAL disaster with only:
- 100 injuries, only 3 of them serious (as of 10:30 AM PDT)
- Less than 30,000 having lost power
- A few houses burning
- And property damage that could well have been avoided had the property owners acted on the long known dangers of earthquakes of this magnitude. These counts are exceeded regularly by hurricanes, blizzards, landslides, floods, blizzards, and all but the smallest tornados.
A natural disaster of this size isn’t going to result in a national conversation on any issue (although I devoutly wish that it would engender a national discussion on the state of our infrastructure, but I predict it won’t) – and we need to have some significant national discussions on other issues.
For that reason, I think wall to wall national coverage isn’t justified. It’s a diversion. It’s a diversion from many important, continuing stories including:
- Ferguson and what it (and other recent police killings) reveal about the systematic oppression of people of color that is structural in our society.
- Police Militarization
- Gun control
- ISIS (or IS, or ISIL, or whatever they’ve chosen to call themselves THIS hour)
- Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people in Israel itself, the West Bank, and most especially the Gaza Strip. Multiplied by our governmental support which should be a national embarrassment, but isn’t.
- Rick Perry’s indictment and related stories – because he’s (still!) considered a contender for the 2016 GOP Presidential nomination
- And I’m sure most of you can easily add 3-4 OTHER stories to his list.
We should be having serious family, local, regional, and national discussions about ALL of these. And in the long run, they are ALL far more important to the health of our society than today’s quake.
And that’s just what Steve Kornacki (poorly) and Melissa Harris-Perry (superbly) did today.
And Sunday mornings have traditionally been reserved for the long(er) form shows that attempt to have just these conversations.
And yet, believe it or not, I can’t fault the news directors and producers who chose to go wall to wall!!! Why not?
First, it was the right choice for LOCAL media. From the local point of view, this is a BIG thing that’s happening NOW.
And it was the right choice for all the national networks save MSNBC. Why? Because the Sunday shows have ALL degenerated into crap! MSNBC alone had programming already scheduled that was more important than the quake.
Why do I characterize these shows as crap? Most of you will already know and agree, but I’ll still illuminate:
- Hosts: Right leaning centrists at best, rabid right wing partisans at worst (yes, I’m talking about Fox) who don’t ask serious questions and don’t challenge their guests when they make outrageous statements
I have to divert here for a minor rant about MSNBC:
Can you believe that a guest on Up With Steve this morning implied that Travis county Texas DA Rosemary Lehmberg is a cannibal? Yes, this white male piece of shitte likened her DUI arrest to the actions of Hannibal the Cannibal!!! Even worse, host Steve Kornacki let it pass without challenge!
Ah well, back to your normal programming …
- Guests: It’s quite rare to see a person of color. It’s more common to see a woman, but it’s still nowhere near enough compared to their proportion of the population, or even their proportion among our leaders (elected or unelected). And (again except for MSNBC) they NEVER have guests from outside the top 1% (OK, maybe the top 5%). The rest of us, regardless of any minority group we might be associated with, aren’t represented on these shows at all.
Further, almost all guests are actively pushing an agenda. And almost all of those are pushing a right wing agenda! Seriously, what do John McCain, David Frum, Charles Krauthammer, and Maureen Dowd still have ANY credibility?
- Choice of stories covered: From what I’ve heard, the choice of stories is almost overwhelmingly represented by those that titillate. Most of them, as presented, consist primarily of thinly disguised gossip! Frankly, I rarely watch any of these shows, but I do make a point of checking in every couple of months in the hope (so far proven to be a vain hope) that even one of them has adopted higher standards. Thus I felt it necessary to start this section with “From what I’ve heard …”
So in short, these shows are crap. And I can’t blame the decision makers at the networks for choosing to jump to ANY other programming they can reasonably justify to their supervisors.
Well, that’s my two cents (okay, more like 7 cents). I’ve got to go now to be an extra for the protest scene being filmed today for “Citizen’s United, the Movie”, so I’m NOT going to take the time for a review and edit before publishing this, but I reserve the right to do so when I have more time.
Please feel free to comment!