As The Newsroom prepared for potential disaster, I came to a realisation.
As Typhoon Haiyan approached the Philippines, I came to the conclusion we have a morbid fascination with death.
When checking the news this morning, as we usually do, there were some vague reports about a typhoon hitting the Philippines, that were suggested to the day’s briefs, but certainly not considered a news story. As the day progressed, so did the storm. Reports that the storm was ‘bigger than Katrina’ caught my eye especially – we all recall the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina where 1836 people died and it cost New Orleans $81 million. The suggestion this storm would cause more damage than that caught the attention of The Newsroom. Devastating, destructive, loss of life, disaster – they are words that capture readers, newsrooms and society as a whole.
When I was interning at the ABC, I remember being excited that it was going to be a “good news week”– Syria was about to be bombed and Nelson Mandela was at death’s door. By the end of my two weeks Syria hadn’t been bombed, Mandela hadn’t died and I’d edited so much footage my eyes watered. Slightly disappointed, I realised this was a good thing, after all: an inspirational man lived on to share his wisdom with the world and a whole country was spared the wrath of America and her allies. My blatant disregard for human life appalled me, but I soothed my soul with the fact that it wasn’t just me; it’s human nature to find yourself drawn to death, itself representing the unknown.
Newsrooms prepare for disasters, and, as I’ve said before, disasters sell newspapers. If this typhoon kills one person, the sad reality is it will not be news, not here. If 1000 people die, interest mounts. If, god forbid, more people die, it becomes a leading story. Newsrooms prepared for Hurricane Sandy, Obamacare and even Australia’s leadership spill, outwardly hoping for the best but secretly and reluctantly hoping for the worst.
Newsrooms do of course prepare for disasters, with obituaries on hold, ready for the likes of Mandela, Prince Philip and Gough Whitlam, to name a few. Occasionally however, there is no preparation; and disasters come out of nowhere. Terrorist attacks are one example, so too are natural disasters. It is interesting to note how scale impacts interest – one person dying here is bigger news than 10 people dying overseas. Proximity, scale: how you can relate it to yourself is all part of the way we see a disaster.
The common theme in all of these, be it preparing for a disaster or the unexpected, is the unknown. It is my opinion the morbid fascination with death is essentially just the relation of death to the unknown. It is not death humans are fascinated with – it is the unknown. Journalists are there to expose the truth, and expose the unknown. How many died, how bad the destruction is, what the implications are – the goal is to present what was the unknown.
And present we will. Here are just a few things that have been going on in The Newsroom this week…
The features team has reached greater heights this week, with Sion Weatherhead writing an incredible post delving into the darker side of psychosis. Melissa Henricks has showed us how to get the perfect summer body and Melina Morry looked into #MelbourneCup fashion on instagram. Not only have we covered Melbourne Cup fashion, we’ve also developed the story of horse euthanasia, and why it is sometimes necessary.
We’ll continue to expose the unknown here at The Newsroom. Have a great week. – Benedicte Earl
Photo from the US National Weather Service.