Where are the people?: News Coverage of Disaster in Japan

Posted: March 22, 2011 by Joanne Goodall in #9 Japan

My birthday was shaken by a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, killing thousands of people, injuring thousands more, and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and in fear. Once the earthquake occurred, news organizations from across North America went overseas to find a story. The story they covered was of the massive tsunami, showing high definition footage of a 3-story wave crashing upon the shores of Japan, racing through their streets, knocking down trees, power lines, cars and houses as it pushed through. For days, people seen “The Day After Tomorrow” like footage, it seemed surreal and almost like it were on a movie set and not reality.

The coverage of the tsunami was good- it covered what happened, when it happened, where is happened, and who was effected but they didn’t show personal accounts until much later. I was more interested on how this affected daily living for the Japanese, what their plans are to recover, where these people were when the earthquake occurred, did they have to run out of the way before drowning under the giant wave?

If it weren’t for social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter I wouldn’t know how the tsunami/earthquake affected families in Japan. I could automatically assume that many are left homeless, many are looking for food and other necessities, and that children aren’t able to go to school because it’s now an empty spot where a building used to sit- but I wanted to see raw emotion on the news but I didn’t get it. Facebook allowed people to post photos of their neighbourhoods but you could also see their previous posts of their village, kind of like a before and after shot. Also, the website allowed them to post status updates to show family and friends from across the world that they are safe and sound.

These social networking sites didn’t influence my understanding of the story because I used television news for most of my background and information- especially with news on the nuclear plant issue. I’m afraid that by using social media I might receive too many biased and subjective articles, stories, and statuses from people who are pro-nuclear/anti-nuclear. Nuclear energy is a debatable issue with two strong opposing sides. With news organizations commitment to objectivity and non-partisanship, I hope I can receive the best information and background on nuclear energy, the dangers it can create in Japan, and what they should be looking for in the next few weeks after the earthquake. Also, news organizations are able to contact head C.E.O.s from the nuclear plants, along with government officials in Japan, to help inform the public and to not cause panic. I think people on social media are jumping to conclusions too quickly, believing that the nuclear plant will cause another disaster very similar to Chernobyl.

I don’t think we are being informed on personal accounts from the disaster in Japan but that they are more focused on how people can be risk-free from being hurt, sick, or killed by the aftermaths of the disaster. Reporters are keener to inform people than to interview people based on their experience through the earthquake.

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