OK, people are going to start throwing brickbats at me for being mean and uncaring, an apathetic monster.
But I’m not. In fact, I have relatives I saw just the other day down at the beach who have thus far been unable to return to their homes in Lake Charles. I get the human cost. I care.
I’m just asking, how much coverage of Hurricane Harvey do we need? And my tentative answer is, “Maybe a little less than we’re getting.” Or maybe the same amount, played a little bit differently. Or maybe I’m wrong. It’s just a gut thing, based on my experience the last few days.
I ask this as a guy who has spent most of his life as a newspaper editor, figuring out how best to deploy finite resources — people, space, time. You can’t cover everything, so what will you cover, and to what extent? And how will you present it?
I was part of the team at The State that was a runner-up for the Pulitzer in 1989 for our coverage of Hugo (we’d have won it, too, if San Francisco hadn’t had an earthquake in the middle of the World Series). I’m proud of that wall-to-wall coverage that went on for days, weeks, while our state struggled to recover.
But as someone who is sitting outside the affected area, looking at national media outlets, I have to think the coverage, and/or the play, may be a tad excessive.
You may recall — if you’ve read anything other than Harvey coverage — that a lot of people accused Trump of burying the pardon of Joe Arpaio by doing it as the storm bore down on the Texas coast. But here’s the thing about that: News organizations can still cover such a political development, and play it prominently — if they choose to.
The last couple of days, I’ve started wondering about news organizations’ willingness to do so.
In the past day, North Korea fired a missile over Japan. Meanwhile, it was learned that a guy who worked for Trump reached out to a high Russian official for help in building a Trump tower in Moscow at the height of last year’s election.
You will say, But that’s just petty politics, and we need to take a break from that stuff when there’s something that affects real people happening — such as a big storm.
Well, yes and no. Assertions such as that always bring me back to the First Amendment. The reason the press has that special protection in the Constitution is so that it can make you aware of things you need to know in order to be an informed, empowered voter.
The kinds of decisions that you, as a citizen, are called on to make with regard to Harvey, are limited. You can volunteer to go help, if you see a way you can do so and make a real contribution. You can give money, or donate food or clothing, or give blood, if those things are identified as needs. You can tell your congressman you want him to vote to fully fund FEMA.
And I think that coverage that a) communicates the situation fully, and b) clearly shows how you can help is all to the good. Give us that coverage, and plenty of it.
But cover the other stuff, too. And, yes, that is definitely happening, or I wouldn’t know about those things. But I get the impression that these other important stories are getting pushed to the margins.
Look at the home pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times, above and below. Those screenshots contain nothing but headlines about Harvey. If you scrolled down on both of those pages, for at least another half a screen, it would be all Harvey.
And to me, that seems a bit… off. What’s wrong with letting people know, in their first glance at your news offerings, that there are other important things happening as well — such as the aforementioned missile over Japan? Harvey could still get the biggest headlines, and the most of them. But give us some balance, some perspective.
It’s a big planet, and most of it is not affected by Harvey. There’s a lot of other stuff going on. Don’t hold back from telling us anything we need to know about Harvey. But tell us the other stuff as well, and don’t bury it.