Scholarship and The Media


I'm very interested in the media and their reporting on disasters and the like- to the point where for a good 24 hours I decided that it would be completely reasonable for me to apply to the Columbia MS journalism program and become Mackenzie. (I've since come back to reality)

During this stupor I came across this guide from The DART center for Journalism and Trauma. Does anyone else spot what is left out? Including SCHOLARS or anyone with a history of disaster experience to discuss the events that are occurring in a context to broader the viewer's understanding of this situation. 

Following a disaster, especially something common like a tornado, there is much discussion of a "window of opportunity". This window of opportunity is spoken about in terms of policy, creating new federal programs, community restructuring, building back "sustainably" or "more resilient" by utilizing structural and nonstructural mitigation techniques, etc. But this window of opportunity is also a moment for education. Someone sitting in Illinois can learn a lot about their own individual risk by a tornado that happens in Oklahoma. The media is a phenomenal way to facilitate this education. Yet, I find that this is constantly ignored.

The "disaster myths" are a classic example of the media perpetuating falsities that then become engrained in our cultural understanding. But let's be positive. Recently a great example of the media inflicting some tangible change is the way donations management has been being handled. In the past few major disasters (both in the US and internationally) there has been an effort to ask for only monetary donations (as opposed to in-kind donations). Donations management is a major issue that has been documented since the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Following the hurricane shoe stores sent a shipment of their sample size shoes - all left sided women's high heeled shoes - as a donation. More recently, following an absolute debacle following Hurricane Andrew in 1993, 9/11, and Katrina the management of in-kind donations at the impacted area has been researched and continually demonstrated to take up resources that the community doesn't have. While these in-kind donations usually come with the best of intentions it is of great interest of those involved with disasters to get the word out that monetary donations are best.   

But it wasn't the media, meaning the actual reporters or news anchors that made this change, it was the people that went on TV. It was the FEMA officials, the representatives of non-profits, the local government officials, and even the individuals and households themselves that have influenced this really amazing change. The media was a tool used by the individuals that are familiar with disasters to spread the word about what was needed and why. This seems so obvious but the fact that this shift is happening on this one little aspect of disaster management is actually quite a big deal. 

The relationship between the media and disasters has to change. And I predict that it will. This isn't new news, the internet has completely changed the way we receive, contribute, and understand media. We have an unprecedented amount of control of the media. The power of an individual that is standing amiss a torn apart town to get on Twitter and speak for themselves can, has, and will continue to change the way the non-impacted world understand what has happened, why it has happened, and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. It's phenomenal. It's exciting. It's challenging.