As I write this, the death toll from the Asian tsunami has been estimated by CNN to exceed 23,000. Millions are reported homeless. Reports from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Somalia, India, and Burma tell of chaos and ongoing rescue and relief efforts. It is a monumental story.
But even as I check websites, my local paper, cable, network and local newscasts about this disaster, I can’t help but wonder:
- Will this story get as much coverage as the Scott Peterson case?
- Will U.S. media invest its mighty resources into a story that is far from home, affects mostly people of other nations, and is relentlessly painful to witness?
- Will media organizations –- especially those that have cut back foreign bureaus — redeploy staff to cover and stay with this story for more than its first days?
- Will newsrooms that have adopted a “hyper-local” approach to news be willing to blow up that strategy in the face of a story that should transcend our parochial interests?
- Will newsroom leaders see in this story the opportunities to bring readers and viewers closer to people, places, and issues they may never have known?
- Will they reject the notion that Americans are interested in the story only in proportion to the number of U.S. citizens directly affected?
- Will local television affiliates demand that their networks provide continuing and fresh pictures from overseas, so viewers won’t see recycled images and assume the story is static, rather than dynamic?
- Will networks send their top reporters, even anchors to the scene? What a powerful message that would send about the importance of this tragedy so far from our shores.
- Will local journalists find creative ways to localize the story while still connecting it to the major event? Will local meteorologists apply their teaching skills to this story as effectively as they explain hurricanes and snowstorms?
- Will journalism organizations carefully vet the charities to which they direct citizen contributions, so donors can be confident their dollars are in the hands of good stewards?
All these questions speak to newsroom leadership, both formal and informal. Who is guiding the decisions about this story in your newsroom right now? Chances are some of your veteran staff may be taking holiday time off. Who, then, is stepping up to offer a vision for remarkable coverage right now? Who is thinking globally, locally, and journalistically?
Let Poynter know what your news organization is doing to cover the Asian tsunami and its many angles. What are you proud of? What could others learn from your work?