I’m sure most people in our class couldn’t even imagine going through something like the disaster in Japan. When we see the images on the evening news, or scroll through the updates on our twitter feed, we can’t relate. Back in Grade 11 before I knew I wanted to be a journalist, I did an eight-minute documentary on natural (and not-so-natural) disasters and how they affect the people at the disaster site and elsewhere. The natural disaster I focused on was Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it left on the people of New Orleans. But then I brought it home. I interviewed different people in my grade about how we’re supposed to help those people out, what we’re supposed to do. And I reminded them of Swiss Air Flight 111. We were all only eight years old or so at the time, but that not-so-natural disaster still affected the community we lived in (near Peggy’s Cove where the plane went down only 12 kilometers off the coast).
When I look back at that piece of work – I can’t help but be a little proud – I wonder what would happen if I did it again now, after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and even the protests in the middle east. Are these type of incidents any more relatable? But I think the answer is now. Despite the constant coverage by different media outlets; despite the graphic images that pop up on our TV screen during the local evening news broadcast; and despite our new efforts to support these people who are faced with such tragedies, I think disasters are more unrelatable now than ever before. Times have changed and the news is even more immediate.
I interned at the CBC last week and I noticed how much Japan was on their docet. The producers and reporters were always looking for a fresh, local angle that they could do that nobody else had. They wanted to report on what New Brunswickers wanted to hear, so they looked into Point Lepreau and its location, which happens to be on a fault line. Near the end of the week though, I had totally forgotten about Libya. This local news cast had quickly shifted from one disaster to the other. And it seemed to me, as an intern and a viewer, that they had forgotten all about that not-so-natural disaster in the middle east.
That’s where online multi-media presentations come in.
CBC’s “Special Report” on the disaster in Japan showcases the exact purpose of online journalism. Instead of having one picture as the main art for the first online story, they have a photo essay. Then all along the side there’s video and more in-depth pieces about the situation in Japan. They even have an interactive part of this presentation for people who really want to wrap their head around the earthquake and the nuclear crisis combined. And CBC online hasn’t forgotten about Libya. They have the same sort of multi-media presentation set-up for that crisis too.
The great thing about the way multi-media and social media have taken hold of these on-going news stories is that we really are better informed. Like I said, if we want to, we can understand exactly what happened to the nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ici Plant. But I don’t think this necessarily means we do choose to take the time to understand everything.
I think there’s definitely an urge to read every Twitter update you see on Japan and Libya, but we don’t – or shouldn’t – do it because it’s simply too overwhelming. The great thing about online journalism today is that the option is always there, but the speed is so fast elsewhere, that we often forget about the recent crisis we were all worrying about an hour ago. I think we’re definitely better informed. But do we understand everything more? Probably not.
And as for my updated documentary? I should probably re-think its focus.