Wednesday, November 7, 2007

OMG CASTLE!: Coverage of the California Wildfires

I was in San Diego on Sunday, October 20, 2007. I had taken the Amtrak Surfliner and was relaxing with Dan, my boyfriend. We glanced outside and noticed that it seemed dark; stepping outside, we saw the soot and ash that had covered his backyard. Obviously, there was a fire somewhere not too far off. We used online local news sources to find information, as well as called the official San Diego hotline. Neither yielded much besides a location for the fire, but that was better than what people were getting if they were relying on television for their information: nearly nothing. I went home back to Irvine that evening only to view the Santiago Canyon fire from the bridge over the train tracks.

Over the course of the next few days, I would find out that San Diego didn't matter. I was hungry for news of the fires just south of me for obvious personal reasons, but if that's what I wanted, TV wouldn't provide it. I started bookmarking webpages devoted to the issue, but the lack of coverage still bothered me. It was obvious from the start that the San Diego fires were going to cause more damage and were more of a hazard to residents than the Malibu fires, and yet the one that continued to get coverage on almost all news stations was still Malibu. It was only after FEMA was called into San Diego that US news sources began to pick up the story and provide updates for those concerned about those more southbound along the 5 Freeway.

Two instances stand out in my memory of the overwrought coverage of the Malibu fires, and can serve as epitomes. The first is a reporter standing in front of a hill, reporting on how the small flare-ups on the hill aren't threatening any people or property. She was talking about something of, very literally, no consequence at all as San Diego was burning down. The second is the incessant repetition of the Persian castle story. The person who owned the castle is probably quite wealthy and stated that she didn't care too much that some of her possessions had been lost. Why newscasters were endlessly reporting on the story of someone who was insured and wealthy enough not to care is absolutely beyond me.

Not so beyond me, actually. The news media caters to the lowest common denominator and show what sells, and for some reason, we Americans love obsessing over rich people.

BS Factor:
One burnt-down eyesore of a castle

1 comment:

Liz Losh said...

This first-person coverage is likely to attract readers elsewhere who want to hear from an eyewitness. But you might want to think about tone. Since I appreciate subversive voices on the web, I laughed at the juxtaposition of image and commentary on your castle burning photo, but others might think that you were being insensitive to home-owners.