Monday, December 17, 2007

News To Me

The question of why some things make into the news and some don't has been on my mind a lot for the past few days. Maybe it's because I've been feeling the need to filter daily things out -- maybe it's the fact that I've been snowed in -- or maybe it's simply this project.

On December 9, there was a major oil spill off the coast of North Korea. 2.8 million gallons of crude oil. December 12 another off in the North Sea off Norway. 21,750 barrels. 913,500 gallons, if I'm right -- there are 42 gallons for crude oil in a barrel.

Full disclosure, I once made a reporting error to the multiple of 10 on the front page of a business journal which has lead me to dread my own publishing of numbers... At any rate, it sounds like a little less than a third of the size. The spill in North Korea also went directly to land, and the effects were extremely dramatic -- devastating.

I'm interested, though, in what gets reported and what doesn't.

The North Korean spill was covered in a big spread in the Times -- as it should have been, no question. The thing is, I can't find the Norway story farther east than the BBC. Yesterday I was trying to follow up a story from UPI and couldn't find it in the American press. Same today -- though not really today; I read about both these spills when they happened, and have been waiting to follow up, and trying to think about what I've learned from them. That's part of the thing with news -- what makes a big news day -- what gets covered may solely depend on what happened that day in history. This really is no different from any other communication -- what presses depends on what's happening. Something is always biggest.

This weekend an article on DOT Earth discussed a bit of why stories become big stories, and how a little of the decision making goes into coverage there. Yesterday on this log, someone commented in reference to yesterday's entry that Iran not taking our currency didn't sound like much news at all, lots of countries don't. I'm not sure that I buy that, only because it's Iran, and nothing could possibly be irrelevant there now, it seems to me -- but I 'm in really unfamiliar territory.

I actually think there should be a page on the Times -- or even a part of a page -- dedicated to oil spills -- to covering oil spills every day. The idea that familiarity breeds disinterest is very dangerous -- it allows readers to not follow things -- to not understand scope and dailiness. An article in the Times earlier this year discussed Exxon's image makeover with stockholders. The article referred to "spill reduction" as one of their achievements. Let's just repeat that for a minute -- spill reduction is an achievement.

Again -- our language gives us away. I had no idea that oil was spilling all over the earth at every moment. I'm glad to know that. It makes me feel differently about leaving the lights on in rooms I'm not in. What we want to know -- what we need to know -- what we should know... The relationship between the daily and what is news -- think new -- is really interesting. For me, I'm finding, there are enormous things that are news to me...

Reporting decisions are no different than any other human decisions -- what is remembered, passed on, focused on is all a matter of timing, significance and scale. We can't do everything at once -- it's true. But important things are getting lost.

Oil spill in Statfjord, North Sea (Norwegian Coastal Administration)
The oil spill (marked in red) is Norway's second largest ever

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