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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tornadoes and media critics

Disasters, whether natural like our tornadoes and hurricanes like Sandy, or man-made, like Newtown, 911, or the OKC bombing, cause an eruption of instant and continuing media coverage. And immediately also, a deluge of media criticism.
That's how it should be.
My students, and social media like Facebook, are almost instantly alive with discussions, mostly negative, with how media, especially TV, is covering what has happened. It is the most likely lightning rod, though increased use of social media, especially twitter, also comes under attack, usually for inaccuracy and insensitively.
I'm no exception, and two days after the tornadoes simply could not watch. I'm usually ranting and raving about broadcast peoples use of words, like "violent tornado." (Ever see a non-violent tornado?) And I cringe even more as the event wears on about interviewing little children, and asking parents stupid questions with no regard for their situation. The demands of the minute-to-minute news cycle is much to blame of course, and in disasters, much early information becomes inaccurate because of the chaos involved. It's not a lot different than pre-digital times, only in much more quantity and much more obvious.
We're all media critics
Much of this comes from my association and work with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma http://dartcenter.org/ which tries to train journalists on how to work with victims and to help journalists with PTSD. This relationship began following the OKC bombing when we received a grant to start a Victims and Media course at UCO. It continues today. And we've held workshops to help journalists as well. Check out their site. The Moore tornado is at the toe of their page.
So I'm super sensitive, but contrary to much media criticism today, mine is not politically oriented. Following disasters like ours, politics have no place, and everybody in the state knows it, I hope.
That's why I could praise a national Fox news journalist Shepard Smith, for his solemn, calming narrative about the tragedy the first and second day. No hyperbole, no yucky emotions or trite sayings. Good journalism always stands out.
I also continue to contend  that local newspapers are critical to  coverage in these times. I see that in Oklahoma this week, saw it in New Orleans in Katrina, after 911, in OKC after the bombing, and in many other places. They give people a source, an assurance that there is still a normal world, a standard of hope and humanity that victims can cling to in their devastated communities.
So while we're all media critics, and  usually negative, tragedies like this bring out the best in journalism as well.


  1. Total agreement! As with anything traumatic, we need to be able to lash out the frustrations and blame someone for the hurt and disbelief. If we could strangle the tornado, call it up to stand trial, we would. Instead, we can only lash out at government...and that includes the fourth branch -- the press/media. (Sidenote: I believe a fifth branch exists -- the people.)

    1. You are correct--I like the idea of the fifth--which thanks to twitter, etc., has merged with the fourth...what else is "citizen journalism"? And since media is now an integral part of every second of our lives...


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