When reports of tragic events begin arriving via the media, I tend to view them a little differently than most people probably do. Certainly, I try to absorb the facts of the situation, comprehend its enormity, and even despair at our inhumanity to each other.
At the same time, though, I instinctively analyze how effectively the media are covering the situation. I notice how mass media — especially television news channels — struggle to fill air time. In their competitive world, it’s important to grab and hold as big a piece of the audience as possible, and that requires wall-to-wall coverage.
In the early minutes and hours of a major event, information is often sketchy, so the media struggle to find new things to communicate. Sometimes they grab onto the thinnest pieces of information and expand on them as best they can. Or speculate on the causes of the tragedy, and who might have caused it.
Then, of course, there are the “experts” quickly called upon to comment on what happened, or what might have happened, and why.
All the while, there’s a concerted search for the all-important eye-witnesses to the event.
And, whatever pictures or videos that might become available are repeated endlessly. If those images are disturbing, the news host will sometimes apologize for the graphic nature of them, then show them over and over.
At a local level, I watch to see how quickly and effectively hometown media connect with the “local angle.” The most important aspect of any major event is how it affects us right here at home. Yesterday, all our local media were quick to look for any Kamloops or B.C. people who might have been running in the Boston Marathon. Some tweeted asking if anyone knew anything about that to please contact them. Others dug out the list of participants and found there were no Kamloops runners, but many from other parts of the province.
Maybe most importantly, I look at how people caught up in the crisis react, how well they manage the crisis. Yesterday and today, I’ve been especially impressed with medical personnel from Boston hospitals as they scrum with reporters to describe what they’ve been dealing with.
Calmly, they’ve been telling reporters everything they know, talking of the extreme trauma they’ve been dealing with, and promising to get back to them when they have something more to add. Last night, one surgeon emerged from hours in the E.R., after carrying out surgery on a half dozen patients, and patiently answered every question the media had for him.
This type of calm under pressure is what we rely on to get us through such terrible situations, just as we rely on the brave people who run towards danger instead of away from it. Those are the people we depend on for reassurance that the world is still a good place.