Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Media and the Disaster in Japan

Scott Gold and Hector Becerra write at The Los Angeles Times:
After the quake, it took 45 minutes for the tsunami to reach the coast of Japan — 45 minutes of knowing, of waiting, of bracing.

When it came, they were all glued to their televisions — a Jesuit priest in New York, an engineering professor in rural Oregon, a geophysicist in San Diego. What unfolded had never been broadcast live before: a 13-foot wall of mud that belittled human achievement, folding houses inside out, propelling yachts across miles of rice fields, rupturing oil refineries, sweeping trains from their tracks and killing hundreds.

By now, we're versed in bearing witness to the aftermath of disaster: limbs jutting out from collapsed buildings in Haiti, survivors using laundry to spell out "HELP US" on their rooftops after Hurricane Katrina. This was different — a disaster unfolding in visceral, wrenching real time, for viewers who were alternately spellbound and tortured by their inability to do anything about it.

Japan's plight came on a sunny Friday afternoon; the magnitude 8.9 earthquake, the largest to strike the area in more than a millennium, hit at 2:46 p.m. local time. Japan is not only an advanced economy but one of the most wired nations on earth; at one point Friday, there were 20 tweets a second coming out of Tokyo.

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