Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why Did It Take So Long for National Media to Notice We were Flooded?

Posted By on Thu, May 6, 2010 at 6:21 AM

In a world of 24-hour news, when said national news channels will devote hours of programming to interviewing people who sleep with famous people, and when they'll interrupt that programming to bring you speculation on the identity of a guy in grainy surveillance footage, it was mind-boggling to flip by CNN, MSNBC, and FOX on Sunday afternoon and see not one station even occasionally bringing their viewers footage of the flood, news of our people dying.

I mean, fine, if they didn't have people on the ground here, but MSNBC is, you know, NBC. They have an affiliate here. But god forbid their viewers miss out on even one minute of whichever iteration of sensational footage from America's prisons they're showing at the moment in favor of actual news.

I mean, this is the thing to me that rings so hollow about, "Well, with the oil rig explosion and the car bomb, you just kind of fell off the radar."

Do they think we don't get their stations here?

On Sunday, Fox was airing an interview with Ann Coulter, which is barely a step up from the prisoner-exploitation porn on MSNBC at the same time. And bless CNN's heart, they were showing interviews with their own staff about what stories the staffers were going to be working on in the coming days.

People, it is sad enough when you're so pressed for something to put on the air that you're just wandering around asking staffers what they're doing this week. But when none of those staffers, whose job it seems to be is to have their finger on what's happening, has their finger on what's happening in a major American city?!

News Network Folks, you did not run out of space for us. We weren't even on your radar. Let's not bullshit here.

So what happened to change that?

Sadly, I think it came down to "the hook" — that thing about a story that makes it immediately understandable to outsiders and makes it feel relevant.

After all, when you're running a 24-hour news channel, and you're after ratings, it's not about passing along information and reporting facts, it's about getting ratings and having something that will keep viewers watching.

"Much of Middle and West Tennessee is experiencing catastrophic floods" is just a bunch of facts. How does that "entertain" the viewer?

Once social media users on Twitter and Facebook started pushing the "we have been forgotten" meme, we had a hook. I mean, it's the point of this post, right? It's a question you can built a narrative around. It's something your viewers can imagine — what if this terrible thing happened to your home and nobody gave a shit?

That's terrible. Now we have a narrative. It's these plucky Nashvillians having to do it on our own because no one else has noticed we're in trouble.

And that got their attention. That gave them a way to frame the story. "We are Nashville."

And goddamn it, we owe a big one to the Grand Ole Opry House for taking one for the team, because that gave them the second way in. If you don't care about plucky underdogs, you care about the loss of our cultural heritage, right? Or at least that makes it seem that this event is of national importance.

Now our loss is a national loss.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad we have national attention now. Folks, please, donate to Red Cross. Come and visit. Buy our stuff (though maybe not our used cars or furniture for the next little bit). Make yourselves at home and open your wallets while you're here.

But we live in a society where attention for a disaster means money and support. If people don't know you're having troubles, they won't know to help.

And, if anything, what we learned this weekend is that if you want help, you have to market your tragedy in a way that catches folks' attention.

I find that troubling.

And what about Ashland City? Or Pegram? Or the three homes in a clump along a creek out west of here that don't have a name? What if they don't have time to "construct a narrative" or a vast army of people to push it out to the national media?

Do they just suffer unknown?

Do they just have to hope that the generosity people show towards us is so great that some of it spills downstream onto them?

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