“Major Earthquake: six dead”

The emphasis on a rolling news agenda, on 24/7 coverage, is producing some silly journalism such as the above headline this week broadcast on a respected news website.

Ah, but we are told, journalism is different now. It’s not like the old days of newspaper deadlines only once or twice a day. Well, up to a point. Remember, in the old days there was a Stop Press column for breaking news. But the journalism back then would say, “Major Earthquake in x. Many feared dead.”

And this is the point. In the early stages we need information and intelligence, not silly numbers. You can almost imagine the scene, the frantic phone call from duty editors in London to the nearest office of a news organisation – “Look out the window! How many are dead? A bus has just crashed outside? Great! Six dead, must be! Get me pictures! Shaking buildings, falling bridges! (hangs up)”.

I’d like to think we can do better than this next time. In the early stages after such a disaster we need intelligence. You would want to hear from a competent seismologist – what kind of area is it? Usually remote, but where are the populations? Then, what is the local health infrastructure like? What might be the likely physical aftermath in that region – flooding, landslips, aftershocks, crop losses, what are the night-time temperatures outdoors for the next month?

Later that day, maybe something on the local politics. What level of resources do the authorities have, and what competences do they have in deploying those resources effectively? Are humanitarian organisations in the area, and frankly what are their competences too?

Journalism, please, not instant daft numbers.

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