1350 Dead Filipinos Isn’t News

Some of you may have heard about the mudslide on Leyte island in the Phillipines with an estimated death toll of 1,350 people. Many of you haven’t. It happened on Friday, February 17, 2006.

Today, the Washington Post online front page does not have a single link to the story. Neither does its “World News” section. Neither does its “Asia/Pacific” section.

The New York Times online does an pretty job with the story; you can see it on the first screen full of text on the front page. There is a featured picture for it on the International section and it is the top story in the Asia section.

BBC News online has a link to the side about the mudslide and it is the top story in the Asia section.

The San Francisco Chronicle online has a larger link to the side, which is nice. One thing I did notice, however, was that there is no “World”, “International”, or “Asia” section. In fact, their main sections are listed as sports, business, entertainment, food & dining, and travel. This just goes to show you how much this newspaper is actually a newspaper, and how much it is a pop culture magazine.

The actual print San Francisco Chronicle newspaper from Saturday had as its two main stories (top half of the front page) something about the weather on some local mountain, and a story about how crime is falling on a certain street in Oakland.

I applaud Google News for having the mudslide as the top story. I know that Google News is automated, but whatever algorithm they are using managed to pick out a good top story today.

So depending on your news source, you might get a good sense of the importance of this story. Or you might think it is just a minor occurrence, perhaps judging by a small link to the side with relation to a story that seems much less important. Or you might not even hear about it at all, even if you happen to read the all the links posted on all of the relevant sections on the Washington Post website.

The above analysis was not done with small-town newspapers. The Washington Post and New York Times are two of the most important newspapers in the country. The San Francisco Chronicle is the largest newspaper in the fourteenth largest city (and twelfth largest metropolitan area) in the country.

If the media makes a story sensational, many of us will perk up and pay attention for at least a few minutes. After this, we will have formed our own opinion on how important the story is. But the story’s initial placement is very important. Some stories will just never be heard unless they are made to be important by the media. The media has a huge responsibility here.

And who can blame the average citizen for not knowing the real most important story of the day? Most of us have busy lives; who has time to do analysis of the media and world events every single day? You really have to watch the news carefully to catch what is important. If you happen to go off the radar for two days, you are probably going to miss something huge.

I am just putting these facts out there, and you can take them how you want. I have my own ideas on why things like this happen, but I can’t say that my ideas are fully formed enough for me to attempt to state them as fact or even as a well-thought-out theory. The bottom line is – it is a damn shame that stories like this are not heard like they should be.

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