Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Category 5 Hype: Did Nonstop Coverage of Hurricane Irene Save Lives?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Category 5 Hype: Did Nonstop Coverage of Hurricane Irene Save Lives?

Article excerpt

Some media critics lashed out at what they saw as hysterical coverage of hurricane Irene in the media. But others say, when lives are at stake, hype isn't a bad thing.

Hurricane Irene never reached above a Category 3 hurricane as it moved up the eastern seaboard. But media coverage of the storm easily reached Category 5 proportions.

On one hand, columnist George Will dubbed it "synthetic hysteria," while the Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz noted, "Cable news was utterly swept away by the notion that Irene would turn out to be Armageddon."

Yet others point to the widespread flooding and the death toll, which has now reached 23, and say that everyone from the national broadcast networks on down to the smallest TV outlets was right to err on the side of caution.

The situation is complicated, say disaster experts, meteorologists, and media pundits. For every excess, there are examples of lives saved and property protected.

To media critic Tom Cooper, weather emergencies are one topic where media excesses are acceptable, even welcome.

"Despite all the negative commentary thrown at the media, what journalists often do best is SAVE LIVES," says Mr. Cooper, author of "Fast Media/Media Fast: How to Clear Your Mind and Invigorate Your Life in an Age of Media Overload," in an e-mail.

"Having studied how the Amish live without media and how the Rapa Nui people use very little media, I can testify that these low media and no media zones could greatly benefit from the constant updates in weather coverage that we have," he adds

"When lives are at stake, and indeed lives were lost in the path of Irene, we need to thank media of all types - social media, network journalism, online, and printed journalism - for preventing fatalities, injuries, and damage of many kinds," he says. Whatever errors media make in reporting weather, he adds, the alternative to "over-reporting," would be "under-reporting," and "it is inhumane and irresponsible. …

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