Tragedy and the News
Tragedy, fittingly but unfortunately, makes news.
When a terrorist attack slays innocent victims, the horror hits the headlines. When a random street shooting takes down unsuspecting bystanders, the killings elicit on-the-scene local news reports. When soldiers die in a combat raid, the casualties and bravery receive high mention and praise.
Not just these, but a wide, and horrific, range of similar tragedies draw essentially assured and often immediate media coverage — for sure the just mentioned terrorist attacks, street murders, and armed forces casualities, but also the calamities and heartbreaks of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, serial killings, mass shootings, explosions, plane crashes, disease plagues, famines, genocides, fatalities of first responders — we could go on. Almost without exception all segments of the media report, extensively, on these type incidents. Death cuts to the core of the human spirit. The media, both as a conduit and a reflection of the human condition, rightfully and respectfully report on these tragedies. We would and should expect no less.
But not all tragedy makes news; media reporting of fatalities does not encompass the larger, more extensive range of deaths. A million people in our country die annually of cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, year in and year out. Daily, by the hundreds, the unlucky or in too many cases imprudent die in auto accidents, the despairing at their own hands in suicide, the elderly in falls, and the young of prenatal complications and birth defects.
This larger, wider group of casualties does receive, at times, media coverage, as well as periodic and in-depth special reports, and we react to these casualties with the same empathy, concern and sorrow as the more often reported types of tragedy. But clearly, media reporting of deaths from this latter group of causes, deaths from cancer, or strokes, or elderly falls, or suicides, that reporting runs lower overall, and much lower on a per death basis, than the reporting garnered by the headline incidents mentioned earlier — the killings by terrorists, the murders from street violence, the deaths in combat, the fatalities of a mass shooting, the victims of plane crashes.
This does not seek to assail or denigrate or criticize the important and critical reporting of the tragic and deadly incidents the media does cover, nor does this argue for any less coverage of terrorist attacks, or natural disasters, or casualties among our armed forces and first responders. This coverage pays respect and reverence to the unfortunate and in too many cases innocent and unsuspecting victims. And the coverage stirs us to action — to strengthen our defense against terror, to donate, to volunteer, to improve safety, to hold our government accountable, to demand better actions of our corporations, to improve our disaster preparations, to change our habits, or to simply learn and understand. fake article
And if we find ourselves overloaded by this coverage, we can turn away for a respite. But if we lacked coverage, we couldn’t fill the void.
So why raise this strong concern about the differing levels, dare say drastically differing levels, of coverage of the diverse segments of the spectrum of deaths?
Why? Because if we truly desire to prevents deaths and preserve life, we must check. We must check whether differing levels of reporting on different causes of death and fatalities, whether those differing levels lead us to miss, possibly unintentionally, critical and important lifesaving efforts. Do we neglect or overlook actions and programs that could be taken to forestall and reduce casualties?
The Attributes of Newsworthy
Let’s start by examining what about an incident makes it newsworthy, what raises a story to the threshold warranting reporting.
To start, as a fairly obvious point, being newsworthy implies just that, being new, sometimes absolutely new, like a new discovery, but more often new, different, unusual, referenced against the normal course of events. The incident must rise above the immense background of innumerable events occurring normally, every day, multiple times a day, in multiple locations.