Earthquakes & Hurricanes & Hype…Oh my!

Jeff Morosoff, Assistant Professor, Hofstra University

There is no question that Hurricane Irene was a danger to life and property.  And there is no denying that earthquakes are scary.  But it seems that reporters often seem to thrive on creating fear when these events happen.  Sometimes their reporting is excellent; sometimes it borders on the ridiculous.

There’s no question that Hurricane Irene reporting was essential and very well done.  It was extremely important that information be relayed to ensure everyone’s safety.  But a drive around Long Island 24 hours before the storm revealed just how fearful people had become.  Closed stores, restaurants and movie theatres were everywhere Saturday morning — many hours before the first drizzle began collecting on windshields. Facebook and Twitter users got all fired up about the impending horror.  One Weather Channel reporter went so far to predict that Irene would be a “life-changing storm for millions.”  Anchors and on-site reporters were hyping everything from taped-up windows to windswept puddles in Midtown.  They mostly redeemed themselves when the storm finally arrived as they did some terrific work.

But the earthquake coverage was hype of the worst kind.  How many ways and times can you ask the man or woman in the street “what did you feel?” or “were you scared?”  Countless hours of news time were devoted to inane “interviews” like that.  Yes, it was somewhat exciting to talk about this rare east coast event, but to claim “I survived the earthquake” as some did was an insult to those who have lived (or died) through a deadly, devastating tremor.

Those in the media fighting for ratings always need the Next Big Thing to talk about.  And reporters play an extremely important role during a major event like Irene.  But they really do seem to trip over themselves to make everything so big.  By doing so, they scare a lot of people.  Your thoughts?

3 thoughts on “Earthquakes & Hurricanes & Hype…Oh my!

  1. Jamie Hagan

    Being from california a place where earthquakes are very common i have become a bit desensitized to the fear and drama that i saw the media try to play up here on the east coast. The coverage was a sad attempt at sensationalizing an event banking on the fact that a large majority of those living on the east coast have never experienced an earthquake and because of this have a very strong built up fear of the unknown.

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  2. Melissa

    The news has been making me nervous for years, which is why its hard for me to sometimes read or watch the news especially at night when the day is over and all the tragedies are either solved or new. But I have to say I was standing in the bathroom in Maryland when I noticed the hand towels were shaking, nervous, I screamed out to my mom and nanny “did you feel that?” While pondering what we had just experienced we were confused whether we had just actually experienced an earthquake. About 20 minutes later the news pops on and starts talking about the rare east coast earthquake. This news dragged on for days. I understand at first this is pretty big news, but wondering whether we will get another one and talking about how bad it could be and what has happened to other countries is just plain scary. We are on the coast and it is very possible for us to get hit with a tsunami, but I’d rather not think about it at a time where I am already a little shaken up wondering if we will experience another one any second.

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  3. Liz W.

    Another issue that an overly-hyped media storm can create is, for lack of a better term, the ‘boy who cried wolf effect.’ If the media continues to over-dramatize every atypical situation, people may stop listening. Even during the hurricane coverage people were saying “it won’t actually be that bad, the media is just over exaggerating like usual.” Those people weren’t shopping for supplies or stocking up on food; they were critical of the media’s analysis of Hurricane Irene. What happens next time when a dangerous storm actually does hit? The media can only tell us so many times, in so many ways, that we have to be prepared for the ‘storm of the century.’ When said storm does come, we might not listen to the warnings, and we might be in way more trouble than we were in the aftermath of the earthquake or Hurricane Irene.

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