Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reassuring voices in the night

The mainstream media cop a fair old pasting, but they come into their own at times of crisis. This has been borne out in over the past 24 hours, when we have seen the much-derided MSM at their best.

Television New Zealand, whose treatment of the news so often fills me with despair, went a long way toward redeeming itself with its coverage of the latest Christchurch calamity. Some of its pretty young women reporters – whom I’ve maligned in the past, suggesting they were recruited more for their looks than their ability – did a superb job. Could it be that, confronted with a truly dramatic breaking news event that forced them to fall back on their wits, they forgot (or ignored) the lessons from their expensive American coaches and simply got on with the job of telling the story? There was no time for artifice, no slick stage-managing of stories. This was the journalistic equivalent of bareback riding.

Some also dropped their professional mask of journalistic indifference and allowed their humanity to shine through. An example was the One News reporter whose shock and sorrow was unmistakeable as he described the devastation in Lyttelton.

Radio, too, rose to the occasion. Both Radio New Zealand and Newstalk ZB dropped their scheduled programmes (along with all commercials, in the case of Newstalk ZB) and maintained coverage of the quake and its aftermath throughout the night. I didn’t cross to Radio Live, but it may well have done the same.

Radio’s role extended well beyond interviewing authorities and crossing to reporters at the scene. It broadcast important 0800 numbers and, in the case of Newstalk ZB, passed on messages and helped put worried listeners in contact with missing friends and family members. All-night host Bruce Russell also read from texts and emails coming in from all over the world expressing sympathy and solidarity with the people of Christchurch.

Radio, for all the recent talk of it being another dinosaur medium, comes into its own at times like this. Some champions of social media argue that Facebook, You Tube and (heaven help us) Twitter will make radio redundant, but they overlook radio’s ability to reach out instantaneously to a mass audience. For all their wishful thinking, digital media have yet to replicate that combination of immediacy and reach.

This is what makes radio so invaluable still to police, civil defence and other emergency services seeking to convey important information. But more than that, radio can serve as a unifying force, morale-booster and agent of social cohesion. The frightened, anxious people of Christchurch, many of them doubtless unable to sleep as they waited for the next aftershock, could tune in last night and know they were not alone. There is reassurance in hearing human voices in the darkness and realising others are enduring the same ordeal – and that people all over the world, total strangers, are thinking of them and willing them to pull through. That must count for something at a time like this.


kelly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kelly said...

Karl and New Zealand, I am so sorry for what has happened, I hope that your country overcomes this tragedy and that those that mourn have strength to get through this time. Praying for New Zealand and her people, all the people and all the hurt and all who passed.

Kelly Slater

Karl du Fresne said...

Thank you, Kelly. The sentiments are appreciated.

The probligo said...

Your comment about radio as the dinosaur medium is right, but you missed one of the more important factors.

Radio is (comparatively) simple. You need a suitable receiver and dry-cell batteries.

For the other media you mention, you need computer or cell-phone, digital network communication (which is subject to capacity constraints as well), power supply...

Nicola said...

Karl, I'm with you on the importance of radio. I'm based in New York, and the first thing I did when I heard about the earthquake was go to the RNZ feed. But RNZ didn't tell me that my friends in Christchurch were ok - social media did. Even though my friends couldn't get access to the internet, they text messaged people living in other cities, who then updated to Facebook. I know someone who found out his daughter was unhurt after a random person in Christchurch saw his tweets and went to check up on her. Social media had a role to play, just like radio did.

Karl du Fresne said...

Though I have a pronounced allergy to Twitter, as you may have gathered, I certainly accept that social media can be extraordinarily useful in situations like Christchurch. But radio's function is different - it reaches out to a mass audience.

Rob Glennie said...

Hi Karl

There will always be a place for radio in society. Whether its for listening to in the car or for receiving critical updates when - as would have happened to thousands in Christchurch this week - the TV is smashed, the internet is down and the telephone lines jammed and you still need to know whats going on.

Facebook is great. I use it a lot, but radio will be around for a long time to come.