Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chilean Miners: Media only does human interest, cannot handle reason

It is great that the 31 Chilean miners have been rescued. The media attention of the whole world has been concentrated on this human story, of miners being brought back from the dead.

This obsessive media spotlight on one human story should also cause us to wonder about the choices of what journalists regard as a story. Human interest is what drives the media. Everyone can identify with the families and friends of men who are alive but trapped, at risk of starving to death, but are successfully rescued.

The attention on the lives of these 31 men contrasts with the almost complete ignoral given to the lives of thousands of children, women and men who are put at risk every day by military action, and are immiserated by oppressive, dictatorial governments. Of course, if it is politically expedient, we will be treated to exquisite detail of lives ruined by the actions of a dictator who the Government has decided is ripe for invasion. Even if the stories are fantasy.

So we have a massive disconnect in proportionality. Journalists love a good human interest story, but they have almost no interest whatsoever in drawing attention to problems which in numerical terms totally overshadow the stories that they like, let alone the solutions to those problems.

I wrote a book in 1996 which showed that about 20% of NHS clinical activity is devoted to trying to treat problems associated with unemployment, poverty, bad housing and pollution. A BBC editor friend informed me sadly that there was no chance of getting this discussed on air. He said "If you could come up with one child who was hideously deformed as a result of his father being unemployed, you would have a story. But 20% of the NHS budget? That's not a story".

Basically, the mainstream media cannot handle reason. It can only handle sound bites and short human interest narratives. Get used to it. And the way to get used to it is to use the internet to pull the carpet from under the media.


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm.... But the story of 'why' the mine caved in is one of 'Economics' and the story of how they are rescued is one of science, politics, engineering and teamwork.

I don't see any problem in using 'human interest' to link into wider stories and news themes. It would be a funny old world if people weren't interested in other humans ?

After all, the whole point of the holocaust was to transfer humans from people to being statistics.

'One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic'. 'Who remembers the Armenians'. And so on. Just like the girl in the red coat in Schindler's List, it is not cheap or shallow to want to find a way to make personal and specific the wider tragedy.

Or would you stop people reading "Anne Frank's Diary" for a similar reason ? If nothing else, this did put a bit of a spotlight on the dangers of mining, although it took The World Tonight on Radio 4 to highlight the thousand miners A MONTH who die in mines - statistics which were strangely absent from the TV coverage.

Which is maybe your point...

word ver - unwooled - how bizarre!

DocRichard said...

OK, I said it was great that the 31 were rescued. But will we get equal coverage for the 17 chines and the - 4 was it? - other S American miners who are currently trapped.

Chile was media overkill. 27 BBC staffers there, 24 hour coverage, with journalists reduced to interviewing each other in the slack hours. Always a bad sign.

Can we agree that it would be nice if the journalists did their human interest thing, but used the slack hours to dilate people's knowledge of the statistics of mining accidents, talk to experts in mining safety, and the way of reducing mining demand through better recycling? That kind of thing. Knowledge. Information. Intelligence.

"Educate, inform, entertain".