The Spectrum of Death: Perspective on News Coverage


Tragedy and the News

Tragic, appropriately but unfortunately, makes news.

If a terrorist attack kills innocent victims, the horror is reported in the news. When a random gunshot is fatally wounded by innocent passers-by, the killings elicit on-the-scene the local press reports. When soldiers die in battle, the victims and bravery garner high praise and applause.

This is not all, however, an extensive, and horrifying array of other incidents receive a largely assured and usually immediate media coveragenot just the recently mentioned terrorist attacks, street murders, and armed forces casualities, but also the calamities and heartbreaks caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, serial killings, mass shootings, aircraft crashes, explosions diseases, famines, massacres, the deaths of first responders and so on. Nearly all media segments report extensively on these types of incidents. Death is the most defining aspect of the human spirit. The media, both as a means of communication and as a reflection of human nature as well as a reflection of the human condition, should respectfully and appropriately report on these tragedies. We’d and ought to expect no less.

The reality is that not every tragedy becomes news; media reporting of fatalities does not encompass the bigger, more expansive spectrum of deaths. Millions of people across our country die annually of cancer, heart disease stroke, diabetes and cancer, year in and year out. Each day, hundreds of those who are unlucky or in many instances reckless are killed in auto accidents, the despairing victims of their own actions in suicide, the elderly falling and children of birth defects and complications prior to conception.

The larger, more extensive group of victims does receive at times, media coverage, as well as periodic and deep-dive reports and we react to these victims with the same empathy, concern and sorrow as the other types of tragic events. However, the media coverage of deaths from this category of causes, such as deaths from strokes, cancer, or elderly falls, or suicides, that reporting runs lower overall and is much less on a per-death basis than that garnered by the headline incidents that were mentioned earlier that include the killings perpetrated by terrorists, the deaths resulting from street violence, deaths in combat and the deaths of mass shootings, or deaths from plane crash.

This is not an attempt to denigrate, attack or denounce the essential and critical coverage of the horrific and fatal incidents that the media covers, nor does this argue for any less coverage on terrorist incidents, natural disasters, or the loss of life of our armed forces and first responders. The coverage shows reverence and respect to the poor and, in many instances innocent and unaware victims. And the coverage stirs us to action — to build our security against terror, to donate or volunteer, for better safety, ensure that our government is accountable, to demand more effective management from our companies as well as to strengthen our disaster preparedness, to alter our routines or to just learn and comprehend.

If we are overwhelmed by this amount of coverage, we can turn away to rest. But if we weren’t covered and could not be able to fill the gap.

This is why there is a great deal of anxiety about the varying rates, and different levels of coverage for the various categories of deaths?

Why? Since if we truly want to stop deaths and safeguard the quality of life, we need to check. We should determine if there are different levels of reporting of different causes of death and deaths, and if those different levels allow us to miss potentially unintentionally crucial vital lifesaving measures. Are we ignoring or ignoring actions and programs that could be used to stop and reduce casualties?

The Attributes of Newsworthy

Let’s start by examining the elements that make it newsworthyand what brings an event to the level warranting reporting.

As an obvious fact, being newsworthy implies just thatthe event is unique, occasionally completely novel, just like an invention However, it is more often a new discovery unique, distinct, referenced against the normal course of things. The incident should stand out against the vast background of countless situations that take place all day long, at different times a day, in numerous locations.

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For instance, think about trees. The lumber industry harvests, in an environmentally sound way millions of trees every year. It’s nothing extraordinary that is not frequently reported. If one of the trees that are harvested will be used as the centerpiece of the Christmas display on the Washington, DC Ellipse this particular tree willlikely draw media attention. Thus, similarly, in regards to the tragedy, reporting goes not to the vast expanses of forest where trees are growing, uneventfully, a bit every day, but to the thousands of acres that explode into dangerous infernos that destroy forests.

Imagine our commutes, or travels for both work and for business. The vast majority of trains, planes subways and buses complete their daily journeys successfully, though more often than would be expected, they cause passengers annoying, but minor, inconveniences. The reporting focuses on the rare trips that do not get to their destination because of an accident, derailment, or need for emergency evacuation.

What other key attribute elicits strong reporting? Human poignancy. The upstanding cab driver who is determined to return the violin that was put in the taxi, this incident draws media interest. Beautiful Cherry Blossoms once more at Washington, DC, and for another reason which involves trees, impresses us with awe and splendor and can become a photo or video feature in the media.

On the tragic side there is a greater poignancy — incidents of appalling injustice, or terrifying vulnerability, or a mystifying source. Terrorism engulfs us in all these dimensions. We cringe at unfairness heaped on innocent victims and the savage psyche of the killer; we are left feeling no place lies outside the reach of such actions and yet we are unable to be able to comprehend or appreciate how or why an individual would justify killing someone else.

News will also try to prepare usand inform us, of events with major impacts. We receive daily weather reports and traffic reports, in tight sentences when the conditions are normal. But when traffic or weather hits the extreme — such as when a truck explosion closes the entire expressway or a winter storm threatens deep snow, heavy drifts, or high winds- the coverage expands in order to better prepare us for the event and also to document the consequences.

We can now, at a broad level, comprehend the different levels of coverage across the gamut of tragedies and deaths. We can do so since, at a broad level we observe some subtle, or more subtle, difference in the coverage of news media. This coverage does not focus only on events within certain categories. Instead, in a great amount, news media picks events from any and every category, and with the high profile characteristics detailed above.

Consider politics and government. Much about these items like the countless webpages of the Federal Register or the multiple and daily speeches in the halls of Congress go by without reports.

If a scandal is exposed and reports are released, it is often followed by a retraction. Scandal is arousing experience, thanks to the conflation of deceit and privilege and an enviable position. The drama draws the attention of news media. The media then details and exposes private plane trips of an Congressional representative, or the expensive luxury enhancements to the office of an administrator in the public sector, or secret meetings of officials of campaigns with foreign agents.

But by-and-large the media will not cover stories that have more human interest and emotional content. Take a look back at the last time that we’ve seen an article about alternate algorithms for distributing medical research grants could increase post-surgical life expectancy for heart operations.

Let me not overstate the media’s bias on death reporting. There are certainly investigations on low-profile incidents and causes. The attention of the media to the extravagant, shocking, or even devastating doesn’t mean that it is an absolute. The tendency is certainly through the media with a ferocious.

This is a strong inclination that is consistent with our hypothesis here, that the news only provides a partial perspective on the spectrum of death. The news focuses on the unusual and the moving, the terrifying, the extremely impactful, the directly related to immediate readiness and the immediate need for preparedness, but fails to capture much of that which is commonplace, repetitive or the small-scale.

From a practical perspective, many deaths fall into this later group, and thus in turn are not a part of the mainstream media’s attention. Stroke-related deaths, and suicides, cancer and falls, and an entire set of regular, daily, common causes, these deaths sum in a huge number. But, each death taken individually, lacks, in the vast percentage of cases, the visibility or drama that would break into the news cycle.

Do the data on fatalities confirm this assertion that the frequently or not reported deaths represent frequent and consistent causes of death? Let’s take a look to confirm.


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