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Human drama in emergent systems
Posted by: Jon Henke on Tuesday, November 06, 2007

One problem with the media is that it tends to only report on the seen - the visible consequences, rather than the secondary effects and the foregone effects. For instance, the New York Times writes a story on critics claims that the rebuilding process is too slow, inflexible, valuing "perfect paperwork over speedy resolutions". While the Times gives space to Federal workers to present their side of the story, the piece itself is replete with examples of hardships in Louisiana, making the tone of the story very sympathetic to the State interests rather than the Federal interests.

That's a problem.

Had the State interests gotten their way on the process, the New York Times would be writing a story today on FEMA's waste and mis-management in Louisiana. FEMA officials would be given space to defend themselves, but the story would be full of visible examples of wasted money, lack of rigorous oversight and unnecessary projects.

The New York Times, or any media outlet, is perfectly capable of observing the visible story, but the visible is only half the story. Readers come away with sympathy for the current hardships, but there is no space given to the foregone consequences, to the problems that didn't happen.

I'm not sure how that problem can be fixed - or if it can be fixed at all - but it's a problem the media should give more thought. Readers are done a disservice when the media delves into human drama for the cheap sympathy points, rather than explaining the more complicated background, and it leads to an overemphasis on the visible versus the invisible.
 
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Readers are done a disservice when the media delves into human drama for the cheap sympathy points, rather than explaining the more complicated background, and it leads to an overemphasis on the visible versus the invisible.
But the media isn’t in the business of providing a service. They’re in the business of making sales. I would imagine that the number of NYT readers who want a more complicated and detailed analysis (but are incapable of figuring things out for themselves) are a minority, so what benefit would the paper have in going to that extra effort?

Maybe I am wrong. After all, people read the paper because they want to be (and feel) informed. If readers become aware of the disservice you are observing, they will drop that paper. After all, you aren’t exactly quoting USA Today to make this point about a lack of depth. It’s not seen as a serious enough paper to warrant the concern. But could a paper survive by giving space given to the foregone consequences, to the problems that didn’t happen?
 
Written By: Wulf
URL: http://www.atlasblogged.com
"Readers come away with sympathy for the current hardships, but there is no space given to the foregone consequences, to the problems that didn’t happen."
Understanding what is not presented by the press requires critical thinking skills on the part of the readership.
 
Written By: Grimshaw
URL: http://
Most newspapers don’t go into analyzing the story with magazines supposedly picking up the slack. But of course, there is no coordination between those different media so unless one is inclined to do some research themselves, one only learns the surface facts. I find it interesting that Mississippi and Alabama have received little coverage and seemly few problems have been exposed and covered by the media.

From a friend who worked there after Katrina, in Mississippi they followed the “do what your have to and ask for forgiveness latter” logic. That got things really rolling and I’m sure it gave everyone a “can do” attitude which prevailed even after the more intensive, thought-out recovery/rebuilding work began. He said that in Louisiana they waited for the proper paperwork and approvals from day one.
 
Written By: AMR
URL: http://

 
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