The latest issue of the Natural Hazards Center’s informative newsletter, Disaster Research, has an interesting article about the national media’s lack of coverage of the Tennessee flooding. The piece, “15 Minutes Lost: Disaster Media Disses Tennessee Flooding,” provocatively asks whether that oversight was necessarily all bad for the locals:
While disaster news coverage is often characterized as opportunistic, provocative, and careless, the Tennessee situation begs the question: is it preferable to no coverage at all?
One positive is that the veritable national news blackout may have been a result of a successful local response:
Locals, in a sort of sour—or perhaps, sweet—grapes idealism, have interpreted that to mean their behavior was essentially too good for the news.
“It was not a PR nightmare,” writes Jan Morrison on the marketing blog Lovell Links. “It was handled with relative calm, an organized response and a lack of sensationalism.”
And, the article raises a great — and not usually asked — question: when national media ‘floods the zone’ so to speak on a disaster is that always good thing for the locals?:
Regardless of the emotion invoked by the cold media shoulder, one might wonder, why do they care so much? According to many disaster experts, the media do little more than muck up an emergency: spreading myths and misinformation, getting in the way instead of helping, and capitalizing on sorrow. Maybe the folks down in Tennessee should count their blessings.
I think it is a very fair to ask whether flood victims (or survivors as FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate like to say) should care. The article reports that there was a lot of hurt feelings in Tennessee about the lack of attention. But the most tangible negative may be less financial support from other parts of the nation:
Nothing whips up a donation frenzy like a solicitous news story and no national coverage equals no national sympathy.
In this case, social media seemed to help fill the void both in generating interest and support.
Like most questions, the answer is probably a mixed bag, but just the fact that Disaster Research raised the issue of the value of press coverage is interesting. And it should lead the national media, particularly all news television outlets, to think about how their coverage — when they cover a disaster round the clock — impacts the community and the response.