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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Whole lotta fakin' goin' on

The Great East Coat Earthquake of 2011 (sarcasm intended) struck just as my wife and son and I were leaving Woods Hole, Mass., on Tuesday at the end of our annual Cape Cod vacation. For the record, we didn't feel a thing, despite being a mere 5 miles from Martha's Vineyard, where President Obama was vacationing and where reporters insisted the quake was noticeable.

I bring this up not to make the point that I didn't feel an earthquake, but to comment on news coverage of the event — specifically by New York City radio station WCBS-AM 880, which I listen to often and respect and which is strong enough to be picked up on my car radio on the Cape.

Unaware of what had happened only minutes earlier, I turned on WCBS at 2 p.m., just as we started driving, to catch some top-of-the-hour news. When I heard talk of an earthquake, I assumed it was in one of the typical hot spots — perhaps California, Mexico or Japan. I quickly realized, though, that the news anchors were talking about people in Manhattan feeling the jolt, and then I began to grasp the full story — that the quake was centered in Virginia but felt over a wide area of the East Coast.

Soon, though, it became evident that in the New York City area, the quake had done nothing more than alarm people. There was no structural damage. There were no injuries. The city's airports and tunnels closed briefly, but only as a precaution.

Why, then, did WCBS spend more than two hours talking about the quake's impact (or, rather, lack of impact) in and around New York City? More than two hours — with no breaks for other news, sports recaps, stock market reports or the features with which the station usually fills its time. It was All Quake, All the Time, and often with nothing more than the same sound bites being repeated.

If the station had been covering the quake's impact in Virginia, where the Richter Scale reading was a rather shocking 5.8 and some real damage occurred, or in Washington, D.C., where spires atop the National Cathedral broke off, that would be one thing. But instead, the anchors and reporters spent more than two hours focusing almost entirely on an area where the event had absolutely no impact and where the shaking measured a measly 2.1 on the Richter Scale. In California, quakes that measure 2.1 rarely get even a paragraph in the newspapers. They certainly don't get two hours, or even two minutes, of coverage on all-news radio stations.

My point is merely this: The news coverage of an event should be commensurate with the magnitude of the event. And a magnitude 2.1 earthquake — especially on a day when Libya's leader was about to fall, the Dow Jones industrial average was racing toward a 322-point gain and a major hurricane was making a beeline toward the United States — does not justify magnitude 9.0 coverage.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Paul said...

Agreed, couldn't believe when I got home yesterday and turned on NBC on the TV around 5:30pm. They (and other networks) were broadcasting live and had been doing so since the quake first hit? For what? This was basically a non event? Boy with huricane Irene coming up the coast watch how they will over react to that too.

August 24, 2011 at 3:44 PM 
Blogger John Simon said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 24, 2011 at 4:36 PM 

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