Thursday, September 18, 2008

Journalistic Drinking Game

I have pictures and video that I still intend to put up on the hurricane blog when I have both time and a broadband connection. Currently I have one or the other--a broad band connection at work and no time, or time in the dark at home, but no internet connection at all. And not to put too fine a point on it, but all the best things to do when the power is out require a partner. Mine isn't here.

OK, TMI. Back to the post.

In the interim, the local and national news has become tiresome. Nationally, we're apparently off the radar screen. If it bleeds it leads, but we're not bleeding or disfunctional like New Orleans. Our mayor is basically giving FEMA the forearm shiver, forcing it to get the heck out of the way so that folks who know what they're doing can get the trains running on time again. And most folks in Houston would be happy to take care of themselves, thank you very much, if the lights would just come on. So, don't mind us, NBC or CNN. Sure, we're the fourth largest city in the country and we go dark every night without civil disorder, and we're responsible for 25% of the country's refining capacity. But don't mind us. We're just fine.

Me in particular, I've got it really good compared to folks on the coast. I've got a job to go to, a house that's still in one piece, enough supplies to last weeks, enough money to take care of myself, and places that are open where I can purchase things with that money. Focusing a camera or a headline on "bleeding" lead stories of destruction provides none of the information we need. Most folks could mostly take care of themselves if the local news would actually provide information, born of actually asking questions like "who, what when, where, why, and how." Instead, all we get is sound bites, born of lazily attending news conferences and merely repeating what is said. Then, news radio breaks to interminably repetitious call in interviews with Joe Bob or Betty from Baytown who says the power is out, it rained really hard, and there's lines for gas.

REALLY? SERIOUSLY? I would have never known.

Beyond that, all we get is the same worn out phrases over and over. It's like some sick, college drinking game. You feel like you ought to take a shot of tequila or every time you hear the buzz words, which if I never hear them again, it will be too soon. We are well and truly tired of the following words and phrases, which through their repetition, have been denuded of any meaning:

1. Hunker--as in "hunker down." Where? How? With what equipement? For how long? Never really said. We just "hunkered."

2. PODs--as in "Points of Distribution." Giving it a TLA (three letter acronym) does not make the sites any less chaotic, nor any less necessary for those who put up a week's worth of their own supplies. The only reason they work is because local citizens took over volunteering to hand out materials to their neighbors, and local radio stations and officials knew where to put them. The real story is how neighbors are taking over, and this story is largely untold.

3. Devastated--Yeah. Barrier island. We get it. Break out your thesaurus or give specifics about streets, blocks, structures, stores--you know, like information people can use to plan their lives for the next several weeks and decide whether and how to rebuild.

4. Recovery--Again. We get it. Recovery has no meaning. What part? Where? What infrastructure? Who's doing it? What do they need?

5. "Round the clock"--blah blah blah. Yeah, Centerpoint is working "round the clock" to get the power outages restored. (See the outage map here and a map by zip codes here. According to the maps, 41-60% of the people in my zip code have power--but I saw no lights in my recon last night.) What are they doing? What's their plan? What infrastrucure specifically needs to be repaired and how? Your guess is as good as mine, because nobody has asked that question. But "round the clock" they go. Mining the internet or chat forums will get you some more details, but then you have a credibility concern about the information you're getting.

I'm sure I could think of others, but the situation really points out the utter failure of informational outlets, in government, in business, and in the media, to provide useful, raw data that people can use to make decisions about how to handle a crisis. There's a pulitzer out there for the man or woman who isn't too lazy to ask some interesting questions. But as of now, journalism is reduced to standing in front of an angry sea or a dramatic background of destruction and blubbering superlatives, as if it is "news" that hurricanes are windy and wash things away.

10 comments:

21stCenturyMom said...

Information doesn't make money. Pulling at your heartstrings makes money. Making your jaw drop makes money. Solid info - so boring!

I feel for you. I hope you all get put back together soon. Also - write that human interest story about neighbors helping neighbors and then send a link to the news people. You never know...

Flatman said...

Hang in there and "hunker" if you need to... :) I am thinking of you "'round the clock". Good luck with your "recovery". At least your home wasn't "devastated". Can you listen to your i"POD" for entertainment?

Seriously...stay safe, friend.

Pharmie said...

Still glad you're OK, even if highly annoyed :)

a.maria said...

well written. well said.

SWTrigal said...

Wow, how awful for you..No power for how long now? I have been watching for news and you are right-it just sort of disappeared from the news radar.. I am so sorry this is happening..hope it gets better really soon!!

Fe-lady said...

The situation you are facing has been overshadowed by the election and financial "disasters"- just bad timing.
Kinda scary there is so much turmoil with government and local agencies. Makes me NOT want to think if there were a REAL catastrophe somewhere in the U.S.

Hope the weather is staying cool enough for you....

triguyjt said...

I'm sure Geraldo getting knocked off his feet helped the people of your region handle the whole Hurricane and its desctructive force...

good luck getting things back in order...

IronJenny said...

WHAT??? The news is repeating non-information?????

no WAY!!!!

CoachLiz said...

The news at my house is that we got our power back last night around 7:30. Slowly but surely things are coming together. Just over a week without power and we survived by "hunkering" down and dealing with the devastation. Now if only I could get cable back to watch the Dancing With the Stars Premier. LOL!!! Is Superpounce still out of school? My son goes back on Tuesday.

Nytro said...

man. great points.

you know where they learned to not give information and talk around the issues?

the white house.

and now benny says i can't talk political for the rest of the day.

damn.

glad you're okay.