The rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners this week dominated world headlines. Even here in South Africa people were glued to televisions, every newspaper ran the story as their lead, and social networks were jammed with posts about the ongoing rescue efforts.
Even more amazingly some estimates put the number of journalists covering the story at no less than 1300. I can’t vouch for that number but it could well be right, considering the BBC alone had a team of between 30 and 50 on the scene.
I’m pretty ambivalent about the entire Chile story, and the media frenzy around it. On the one hand it didn’t really affect me. I’m not heartless and I can appreciate that for those directly involved, particularly the miners and their families, it was a life-changing event, but I felt no compulsion to follow each and every moment of the rescue. There are things closer to home and, frankly, more disastrous than the rescue of miners on the other side of the world to worry about.
On the other hand I am fascinated by the media attention this got. 1300 journalists for one single event is gob-smackingly large. Even if it was only half that it would still be an insane use of media resources, especially at a time when media is facing financial pressures.
I’m with Jeremy Littau on this one. Imagine what could have been done with 1300 journalists if they were working on other major stories? Surely it was completely unnecessary to expend so much in pursuit of a single story?
As Littau points out, the fact that so many resources were thrown at this story is probably the result of news organisations chasing page views. Human interest stories attract hits and trapped Chilean miners are good for the numbers. But what of the day after, when they’re all rescued? News organisations will be on the hunt for the next big traffic driver.
This is not good for news.
Sure BBC, New York Times, Reuters, CNN and other big name organisations were rightly on the scene when the rescue happened. But why are all the others there? Aside from the local Chilean/South American media, most organisations surely could have picked up coverage from elsewhere without sacrificing value staff and resources to be on the scene.
As Jeff Jarvis advocates in an excellent essay in the IPI’s Brave News World (PDF) collection: “Do what you do best and link to the rest.”
There were even reports that the Chilean miners received media training before they were rescued. Team that up with the miners being given sunglasses, iPods and free holidays by companies eager for free publicity and you have the making of a media pantomime.
The entire saga will also have long-term negative effects on other news coverage. The New York Times is reporting that thanks to its overspend on the Chile mine disaster the BBC will have to cut back on other coverage, including sending only one reporter to the climate summit in Cancun and cutting the number of editors attending the G20.
As Littau says: “Hope those one-day page views was worth it!”