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Human Tragedy and (un-trumpeted) Triumph in Japan

Posted on March 19, 2011 at 5:35 PM

News headlines are designed to attract an audience. "Japan Prepares for Another Chernobyl", "Can Japan Nuclear Radiation Blow Over to U.S.?", "Japan Awaits Meltdown". My sister sent me a letter today that might prompt a headline such as, "Woman Fights for Life in Tsunami Ruins," but she would probably have a different title. Following are excerpts from her blog:

Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend's home. We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful.

During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit in their cars, looking at news on their navigation screens, or line up to get drinking water when a source is open. If someone has water running in their home, they put out a sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets. People keep saying, "Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone helped one another."

Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are constant and helicopters pass overhead often.

We got water for a few hours in our homes last night, and now it is for half a day. Electricity came on this afternoon. Gas has not yet come on. No one has washed for several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group.

And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no.

And somehow as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt so small because of all that is happening. I don't. Rather, I feel as part of something happening that much larger than myself. This wave of birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent.

Thank you again for your care and Love of me,

Anne

After working in television newsrooms for 11 years, I can't help but feel the pangs of missing participating in the big news stories. Even national and world news stories have local impact, and my job as a reporter was to "localize" stories that made world headlines. My personal goal was to "bring home" the impact of a national or world story so that Oklahomans might see how human beings are intertwined - regardless of our geographical proximity. The less auspicious corporate goal is to attract viewers (and their advertising dollars) with powerful images in order to drive up ratings and win the day. Newsrooms and promotions departments struggle with the delicate balance between imparting relevant local information and outright exploitation.

ex·ploi·ta·tion

—noun

1. use or utilization, especially for profit.

A friend of mine was recently instructed to localize a story about a killer whale trainer who was killed during a routine aquatic show at a Florida theme park. The video was spectacular but there was one problem in localizing the story: We live in Oklahoma. Not many man-eating killer whale stories here. The reporter craftily went to a local aquarium park to talk with a marine expert about killer whales--which they did not have. But that's beside the point. The station got to play the compelling video over and over again in promotions throughout the day, driving viewers to their evening newscasts.

It isn't pretty. It is what it is. I still watch the station and the reporter because, overall, they are ethical in their handling of information.

A story as powerful as the world-changing earthquake and tsunami in Japan is easily localized - even halfway around the world. Truly, such a tragedy impacts us all. But how to responsibly make it "hit home"? Promotions departments and local newsrooms around the U.S. use tactics like, "Japan Nuclear Catastrophe Could Happen Here", "Oklahoma's Recent Earthquakes: Disaster Imminent?" Be truthful. Are you attracted by such ploys for your valuable time? More responsible newsrooms tap in to the human desire to help those less fortunate with stories like, "Japan Catastrophe: How You Can Help", "Social Media Links Oklahomans to Japan Survivors" or "Local Exchange Students Await Word from Japan".

Pay attention to the way your news stations attempt to win your attention. Do they use ploys to frighten you into viewing, or do they attempt--through responsible promotions and ethical storytelling--to bring you closer to the reality of the circumstances? Believe it or not, there are probably more stories of triumph coming out of Japan than there are stories of tragedy. No earthquake or tsunami is stronger than the human spirit. Are you reading and watching the stories of inspiration and hope?

I made a decision when I left local news that I would only give my valuable time to those outlets that tell the whole story - the good, the bad, the horrific and the inspirational - not just the outlets that frighten me into watching.

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