Monday, May 17, 2010

Media Fail, Flood Edition

Today’s Washington Post looks at why the Nashville flood story was passed over.

Some interesting things here, including this:
Newsweek's Andrew Romano writes that the problem with the Nashville story was "the 'narrative' simply wasn't as strong" as in the suspense-laden Times Square and BP dramas. "Because it continually needs to fill the airwaves and the Internet with new content, 1,440 minutes a day, the media can only trade on a story's novelty for a few hours, tops. It is new angles, new characters, and new chapters that keep a story alive for longer."

Eh, I’m gonna call bullshit. “Man fights nature” is one of the classic literary narratives. It’s why every time there’s a hurricane headed to land we get to see Al Roker and Rob Marciano in rain slickers buffeted by high winds as they try to shout into the mic. It’s why we are constantly having our regular programming pre-empted by local weatherbots chasing Doppler Radar color blobs over a map of towns you’ve never heard of. Weather is news.

Nope, that wasn’t it.

There’s this:

"On that side of the Hudson, they really lose sight of the rest of the country," says Sellers, who grew up in Kentucky. "They view it as flyover country. . . . There's just a feeling among folks here, 'Look at what the national media are talking about, they're not giving any attention to this.' "
Meh. Not buying that, either. We are “real America,” remember? That’s what the national news media keeps telling us, anyway. And they love “real America,” indeed they’ve invented entire reality TV series around us (“Ice Road Truckers” and “Deadliest Catch,” anyone?). On top of which, the Gulf of Mexico ain’t exactly “coastal elites,” it’s the Redneck Riviera. The oil spill story is taking place in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi. C’mon.

I also don’t think it had anything to do with our lack of looting (which, hate to break it to you, isn’t even true. Yes, we had looters).

And this:
The reasons are more complicated -- and troubling -- than Music City's distance from the big media centers. Downtown Nashville was unfortunate enough to be under water while the news business was grappling with two other dramatic stories: the attempted bombing in Times Square and the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Each, of course, raised a bewildering array of questions that could be endlessly debated by the pundits. Was the Obama administration too slow in reacting to the offshore explosion? Why didn't federal regulators crack down earlier on BP? How could a permit have been issued when the company had no real plan for stopping an oil spill?

And: Why was Faisal Shahzad allowed to board that plane even though he was on the no-fly list? Should the feds have read him his Miranda rights? Were we just lucky that he was a bumbling bombmaker?

Ah, yes. Of course, that kind of nitpickery could have been used to address the Nashville flood story, too. Really, it could have. And that misses the point.

What do a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a thwarted terror attack in a major U.S. city, or a major immigration battle in Arizona (the other story making headlines that weekend) have in common? Fear, of course. These are news stories for which the fear angle can be pushed on a national scale. A flood in Nashville? Not so much.

Add to this the fact that our flood happened so fast--unlike a hurricane, which is tracked for days before landfall--and on a weekend, and on a particular weekend when so many news folks were at the White House Correspondents Assn. dinner, it’s easy to see why the lumbering national news media got caught off guard.

The good news is that the story did get out nationally (the fact that the Washington Post did this column is evidence of that). Not on the traditional national news outlets but on blogs, social media, Twitter. There were shocking photos and compelling videos and wonderful writing. And our local news media, once they figured out that the story was not in the Doppler Radar color blobs but on the ground, in real life, did a good job, too.

The national news media seems to be saying a collective “we’re sorry,” and frankly, I don’t give a damn. Because the fact that you overlooked our story isn’t bad for us. It’s bad for you. It’s just another example of an outdated media model involving gatekeepers and a centralized hierarchy of decision makers that control the information flow which is completely at odds with the current, decentralized model taking hold among actual consumers. The Nashville flood story showed the limitations of the national news media in the inernet/wireless/cellular age.

There will always be a place for the national news media of course, but as far as where people go to get their information, that is getting more personalized and decentralized. You guys no longer hold the keys to the kingdom.