Saturday, March 12, 2011

Probably not

Large backlog of stuff to comment on (Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., we have not forgotten you!), so let's spend just a brief moment on Stuff You Shouldn't Do In Writing About Disasters. Today's point is: Don't write heds based on what you think ought to be happening.

Yes, there's shock. No kidding. But even though they're largely made up of foreigners, whole countries rarely sit around in one emotional state at a time. A more reasonable impression seems to be that, despite the genuinely epic scale of this disaster, Japan got off its duff pretty damn quickly. Agencies seem to have done what they practice for. People looked out for each other and themselves; they aren't just helpless toys of fate.

Shock, pervasive panic and general Hobbesianism are among the pervasive myths of disasters (here's a good place to start your lit review). We tend to write about them whether they're happening or not. No looting in sight? Well, write about how the National Guard is keeping the looters off the streets!

So that's today's sermon. There's plenty of important stuff to write about. Try not to make the disaster myths a part of it.

Feel free, of course, to head over to Today's Front Pages and conduct your own contest for Best "Local Couple's Vacation in Peril" story. And from the New York Times's online coverage, a few reminders of why we need copy editors:

While the loss of life and property may yet be considerable, many lives were certainly saved by Japan’s extensive disaster preparedness and strict construction codes.

If the preceding two grafs have pointed out that at least "hundreds" are dead and thousands of homes have been destroyed, we're probably safe in saying that loss of life and property are already well into the "considerable" range.

On Saturday morning, the JR rail company said that there were three trains missing in parts of two northern prefectures.

Suggestions on what this qualifier is doing there are welcome.

From an updated version:

On Friday, NHK television showed images of a huge fire sweeping across Kesennuma, STILL WORRIED ABOUT THIS a city of more than 70,000 people in the northeast.

Looks like some rogue memo type got loose here. Are you worried about the spelling or the location?

Now back to your regularly scheduled excess of data analysis. And a happy spring break, wherever it may take you.

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