At The New Republic, Noam Schieber argues the blanket media coverage of the Haitian earthquake aftermath is just too much. It’s redundant, it’s interfering with aid operations, it’s a waste of resources. His solution: pool coverage. Just as the president is followed around by a rotating pool of reporters, maybe Haiti and other natural disasters should be too:
Just like they do for White House coverage, the major (and some not so major) news organizations could draw up an agreement to send a contingent of print, radio, and television reporters to wherever the next global disaster strikes. The participating news organizations could then use the raw material transmitted back to them to fashion their own reports. The pool correspondents could even be available to conduct on-air interviews with different television organizations, depending on their editorial needs. The arrangement would obviously be less than ideal for the outlets with the biggest budgets. But, collectively, the media would have the peace of mind of knowing it’s not exacerbating the same problems it’s trying to alleviate.
I yield to no one in my contempt for the crass, sensationalistic conventions of TV news (which, given technical demands and the quest for ratings, has by far the biggest footprint of any media). And the coverage of natural disasters employs most of those conventions, notably the faintly ridiculous notion of journalist-as-globetrotting-hero.
But do we really need less coverage of Haiti? Natural disasters are not garden-variety breaking news, discrete events analogous to a presidential meeting. To be clinical, they are complex events in which the built and natural environments change instantly and radically, and with them entire societies, economies, and political arrangements. Millions of lives are upended in minutes. Some are – for their nations, regions, and at times the world – historical pivot-points.
It seems self-evident that when something like this happens, the more eyes that are on it, the better. It’s one of the few times that our collective media wattage is actually focused on something consequential. Sometimes journalists will all cover the same story. But sometimes they’ll stumble on stuff that nobody would have otherwise. Moreover, the more journalists become intimately familiar with Haiti, the better it will be for future coverage of the disaster’s aftermath – something that has proved helpful to New Orleans in its long, slow recovery.
Aside from annoyance at Anderson Cooper and his ilk, Scheiber’s principal argument seems be that the mass influx of journalists must somehow be hurting the Haiti rescue and aid operations. But he offers nothing more than a few guesses about this. I expect the actual footprint of journalistic operations, compared with aid efforts, is very small and getting smaller. Tina Sussman of the Los Angeles Times, just returned from Haiti, offers some additional thoughts on this.
The 21st is likely to be the century of the mega-disaster. The more raw information we get about them, the better.