As the country watched on TV and followed online the unfolding story of Hurricane Irene, many feared for the worse — would New York City be decimated, overrun by tidal waves, windows blown out of skyscrapers, like a disaster film? How many millions of people would go without power – or worse? Would the entire eastern seaboard be destroyed?
While Government officials ordered evacuations in low-lying areas, the media repeatedly advised everyone to heed the warnings — framing their coverage with de rigueur “Hurricane Irene” logos and music. The wall-to-wall coverage told us this was serious. Never before were so many people in so many states in the path of a major hurricane — and unlike an earthquake or tornado, which come and go quickly and almost without warning — we watched the impending doom of this hurricane approach for days.
What’s interesting about the media coverage of the storm (or any disaster) is the way it brought us together.
People say that the lowering of journalistic standards is because it’s difficult to fill a 24 hour news cycle. Yet, here we were, with the cable news networks going live for over 24 hours, yet the usual antagonizing or inane content literally disappeared from the airwaves. There was no Republican-Democratic bickering, no mention of the latest media figure-du-jour. Media dealt with what people were immediately concerned with and needed to know about — the storm.
It is noteworthy that during times of crisis or impeding disaster, the country bands together as one to overcome a larger foe and pray for everyone’s safety. Well, we have plenty of chronic crises and impending disasters in this country and indeed the world — unemployment, violence, hunger, preventable illness and suffering, to name a few — what a difference the media could make if it attempted to address those issues with the same intensity as the storm coverage?
How many more disasters do we need to bring us together? When will we come together just because it is in our best interests to do so?