The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

21 August 2003

The last word on Blackout '03

"Would there be this much news coverage if the power went off in the middle of the country?"

This was my daughter's question while watching the anguished reports from the darkened Big Apple. The answer, from E. Henry Thripshaw:

I've spent time in New York and I can imagine that it must have been a huge pain in the patoot to get from Point A to Point B. But the people of New York were no more or less inconvenienced than the people of Cleveland or Detroit (or Lansing or Oneida). Here's where my grapes get sour: had a major outage happened in Denver, or Austin or Minneapolis there would have been a story on the evening news... probably in the second segment. It might — might — have warranted a special report had it affected more than 5 million people. And they would have felt obligated to say Denver Colorado, Austin Texas, or Minneapolis Minnesota because cities without a huge body of water next to them need to be further identified as cities within the boundaries of the United States.

But Sustaining Coverage? Doubtful. Can you even imagine Dan and Tom/Brian and Peter/Ted sitting at their news desks looking concerned as we watch aerial shots of 50,000 people schlepping their briefcases and haversacks along Interstate 70 in St. Louis?

"We're entering hour number 2 of Sustaining Coverage of this CBS News Special Report of 'Blackout 2003, the Missouri Misery.' I'm Dan Rather and we have video now of a bus seemingly filled with what we think are people trying to get to the Mississippi River in an effort to abandon the town. You might say they are on a cruise ship to nowheresville and Isaac has run out of mixer. For those of you who are not aware, St. Louis [is] a town located in Missouri approximately half-way between New York and Los Angeles. We also believe — believe — that St. Louis is the capital of Missouri, but we're waiting for confirmation from CBS' Ed Bradley on that. Meanwhile, in New York, the Dow Industrial Average is down two-and-a-third points on news of the power outage."

The coasts, as Susanna says, just don't get it.

Posted at 8:35 AM to Dyssynergy


A couple of thoughts:

-Using the state signifier (Denver, *Colorado* instead of just Denver) is an AP style thing. It is indeed a status symbol, in that some cities are considered more world-class than others. As I entered into adulthood, I remember seeing both Miami and (more recently, probably as a result of the Olympics) Atlanta lose their state appends. I'm not sure they're not necessary, though; enough people in this country probably couldn't locate major cities like NYC and San Franciso on a map.

- Similarly, take note on how coverage of the 9/11 attacks on both New York and Washington, DC ;) quickly became concentrated to just NYC. Granted, the severity of the Trade Towers attack was more severe and dramatic, but it struck me as odd that Washington was brushed aside so quickly.

Posted by: CT at 12:19 PM on 21 August 2003

The ultra-cynical would say that NYC got the lion's share of the TV coverage, at least, simply because it was better television for a longer period. Less cynical types might also point out that at the time the death toll at the WTC was thought likely in the neighborhood of 10,000, compared to hundreds at the Pentagon.

I think both explanations are valid.

Posted by: McGehee at 12:46 PM on 21 August 2003

But as for the blackout (my previous comment was in reply to CT's 9/11 point), neither of the proposed explanations really qualifies; harm and television should have made the riots in Canada more compelling than a bunch of people calmly walking home in NYC.

Posted by: McGehee at 12:49 PM on 21 August 2003

And for obvious reasons, Oklahoma City does not have appended, "Okla" in datelines. We've hit the big time!

I did see a tiny bit of coverage from the midwest, but only 5 or 6 hours in. We're just Flyover Country, after all.

Posted by: Dan Lovejoy at 6:53 AM on 22 August 2003

Hmmm...could it have something to do with NYC being one of the biggest cities on earth? Of course NYC is going to have more coverage than a state in the middle of the nation. It would be similar if a city like L.A. lost all power. And complaining that D.C. was "overlooked" during 9/11 is pretty harsh. This was a national disaster, why do you care which city got the most coverage? If you think about it the damage in NYC was alot worse than the damage done in D.C. I'm not saying what happened to the pentegon was any less serious, because it's just as bad...it was an attack on our country. The plane that went down in PA is another disaster that occured on that day. This was a NATIONAL crisis. Let's not turn a national disaster into an argument of which state had it worse and which should have more coverage. And once again, in regards to the black out, it is definatly not suprising that the city got such huge coverage. When something like that happens to one of the biggest cities in the world, it's a pretty big story, don't ya think? A little bit bigger than if a state in the middle of the country lost it's power. Nobody should go through blackouts in these days in this country, it's horrible if it happens anywhere. But you have to understand that if it happens in a huge city, that's going to be a huge story.

Posted by: Tom at 12:53 AM on 25 August 2003

Next time they have floods near Dhaka that wipe out a couple hundred thousand or so, I'll look for it on page 5.

I still think that amount of coverage = number of reporters available on the scene, squared. Of course it's news to them; it's happening to them.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:34 AM on 25 August 2003