The Ever-Churning News Cycle

I’ll be the first to admit it: I forget things. I have a fairly busy life, and a to do list that just won’t quit. I do my best to stay on top of what’s happening in the world. Why? Because I think an informed populace is far preferable to an uninformed one. But as I was looking over news stories this morning and saw that they’d finally released a death toll “total” on the typhoon that hit the Philippines (5,200), I had to stop a minute and really try to put that number into perspective. 5,200. (The September 11th attacks killed just less than 3,000. And that’s only comparing deaths to deaths.) Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the storm. The houses lost. Lives destroyed.

That was two weeks ago.

When I think about how much 9/11 affected our country and how far reaching its effects have been, I’m all too aware that the coverage of this current disaster has been paltry in comparison. Why is that?

There are a number of reasons I can think of. First off, our news system is geared toward a “what’s happening now” mentality. We have the build up coverage in anticipation of the next disaster, and then coverage of the disaster itself. There’s a few days (maybe) of follow-up coverage on the aftermath, but then it’s on to the next disaster. The next crisis. Because disasters sell news. Warm fuzzies don’t.

But I think it’s more than this. I’d say some of it has to do with the pop culture we consume on a daily basis. The disaster movies. The horror films. The sordid dramas. We are conditioning ourselves, slowly building up an immunity to real tragedy as reality struggles to live up to the way its portrayed on screen. When Michael Bay can destroy an entire city on film, what’s 5,200 people? And think about how movies handle it: it’s identical to the news coverage approach. The film starts with the first portents of a disaster. It follows that disaster to its culmination, and then it sticks around just long enough to give us some pithy “there’s still hope” message before the credits roll and it’s on to the next movie.

We don’t deal in aftereffects these days. We just focus on the here and now and next.

At least–we don’t deal in them until they happen to us. The news cycle churns on for everyone except the families and individuals directly involved in a catastrophe. For them, those aftereffects can’t be avoided. And it shouldn’t really surprise me, I suppose, if places that are farther away receive less coverage than places that are near to us. If a disaster strikes in the states, that’s going to account for weeks of programming. A disaster in far off reaches of the world? A few days.

As much as we like to think of ourselves as free minded and just thinkers, there’s just no escaping the immediacy of the Other. Stuff happening to people we don’t know and have no connection to just doesn’t matter as much to us as stuff happening close to home.

I don’t mean to be wholly critical of this tendency, because I think in many ways, we need it. If I got as upset about a stranger’s death as I got about a family member’s, I’d be in a constant state of depression. There’d be no avoiding it. And with how good the news coverage has gotten at telling us all about all the tragedies that are happening every minute of every day across (almost) every inch of this globe, how in the world could anyone go on with their lives?

Not that I have any immediate solutions here. I’m just thinking on virtual paper. I don’t know that there is a solution. I do know that it seems to me lately that the tragedies just keep on coming, and I feel bad as they roll across my computer screen, and I send money to the various causes, but then it’s on to the new and the next.

And what is the news supposed to do, exactly? If they followed all the cleanup efforts of all the disasters, soon there’d be no room for new news.

Bah. I started this post hoping I’d come to a nice tidy conclusion, and I’ve ended up more confused than I began. And now I have to end, because I’m out of time, and there’s a new blog post to start working on for tomorrow.

Which kind of proves my point and indicts me at the same time.

And on that cheery note, I hope you all have a nice Monday.

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