Tag Archives: earthquake

Did the Times overstate Japan’s nuke crisis?

It was a week ago today that the New York Times ran this lede:

Japan faced the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear accident Tuesday morning, as an explosion at the most crippled of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station damaged its crucial steel containment structure, emergency workers were withdrawn from the plant, and much larger emissions of radioactive materials appeared imminent, according to official statements and industry executives informed about the developments.

The headline, which led NYTimes.com that night: “Japan Faces Potential Nuclear Disaster as Radiation Levels Rise.”

We can all be grateful that the worst hasn’t happened. It appears that the nuclear situation in Japan, despite continued setbacks, may slowly be coming under control. So my question this morning is whether the Times grossly overstated what was happening on that scary night.

A news organization should not lightly assert “the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear accident.”

A very scary night

NYTimes.com’s lead headline right now is about as horrifying as it gets: “Japan Faces Potential Nuclear Disaster as Radiation Levels Rise.” The lede:

Japan faced the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear accident Tuesday morning, as an explosion at the most crippled of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station damaged its crucial steel containment structure, emergency workers were withdrawn from the plant, and much larger emissions of radioactive materials appeared immiment, according to official statements and industry executives informed about the developments.

Note the wording: the “likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear accident.”

I’ve been watching NHK’s English-language service at CNN.com. It is not reassuring, despite the cool élan of the on-air folks.

Chile and earthquake fatigue

I hope I’m not just channeling my own dysfunction, but it seems to me that interest in the Chilean earthquake is pretty limited. There’s plenty of coverage out there. But this is not a story people are talking about, especially in comparison to the Haitian earthquake. The reasons are pretty obvious:

  • Haiti is close to the United States, and Chile is on the other side of the world. Related to that is the fact that Haitian-Americans are a large minority group. Chilean-Americans are not.
  • Media consumers are suffering from earthquake fatigue.
  • Even though the Chilean earthquake was much more powerful, it appears that the death toll and the suffering will be far less than was the case in Haiti.

With that, a few ever-so-slightly non-mainstream sources for you to look at: If you’re not accustomed to heading for the Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog after something like this, well you should be. The New York Times is gathering user-submitted photos. Global Voices Online — which is holding its annual conference in Santiago, Chile, in May — has posted two blog round-ups, here and here. And Boston-based GlobalPost has uploaded a number of stories and photos from the scene and the surrounding area.

And let’s not leave out Boston’s Christian Science Monitor, a leading non-profit source of international news. A story on why Chile seemed so well-prepared, for instance, yields this gem:

Chileans are well versed in what to do during earthquakes, with drills part of every child’s schooling. “Just in case” attitudes, which might seem obsessive in other parts of the world, are the norm here. One woman says she turns off the gas valve every time she leaves the house, just in case a quake strikes when she is out.

A citizen-media aggregator for Haiti

On Wednesday I mentioned Global Voices Online, a Harvard-affiliated service that was rounding up citizen media from Haiti and the Caribbean.

Global Voices has since set up a Haitian Earthquake 2010 section that aggregates citizen-produced content and includes key links to mainstream news organizations — including the Boston Haitian Reporter. It’s got its own RSS feed, so you can plug it into Google Reader.

Here’s a first-hand account of the quake that I found on Global Voices:

Towards 4:45 PM, with our driver, we enter the parking lot of Karibean, Pétion-ville’s big mart. As usual, the way in is slowed by the usual Delmas traffic. While driving up the entry, our Patrol began to dance. I was imagining three or four boys standing on the bumper wanting to swing the car. In front of us, the parking lot ground rocked like the waves at Wahoo Bay. The Karibean building started to dance and in 3 seconds’ time completely tumbled down. A white cloud swept across the parking lot and you could see zombies whitened by dust appearing, in complete panic.

The earthquake is a tragedy whose full dimensions won’t be known for quite some time

Haitian earthquake relief

At the suggestion of frequent commenter Mike from Norwell, I’m adding a box for those who wish to donate to relief efforts for victims of the Haitian earthquake.

Rather than link to a long list of charities, which you can find pretty much anywhere (I recommend the Boston Globe’s list), I’m designating a fund set up by my religious denomination. It’s a joint effort of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

To donate, please click here.

Citizen media and the earthquake in Haiti

Note: This item originally included a photograph of a woman being rescued that was cited as an example of citizen media. On March 16, I was informed that the photo was, in fact, the copyrighted work of Daniel Morel, a professional photojournalist. Please see this for more information.

Update: Wednesday, 7:21 p.m. We are posting more links in the comments.

Ever since a tsunami devastated South Asia in December 2004, social media and citizen journalism have been recognized as key components of covering natural disasters and other breaking news stories. Professional news organizations can’t be everywhere; on the other hand, millions of people are carrying cell phones with cameras. New-media expert Steve Outing called the tsunami “a tipping point” for citizen journalism.

In such a decentralized news environment, the challenge for journalism has been to make sense of what is happening in something approaching real time. Most recently, social media have played an important role in bringing news of the Iranian protest movement to the outside world.

So when a major earthquake hit western Haiti yesterday, it was no surprise that news organizations, large and small, tapped into Haiti’s online community in order to provide them with the on-the-ground eyes and ears they did not have. Given Haiti’s unfortunate status as one of the poorest countries in the world, you might not think there would be much in the way of electronic communication. In fact, there is a lively and heartbreaking stream of reports coming out of the island.

I’ll begin closest to home. Last night the Boston Haitian Reporter started a live blog to gather accounts from readers and to link out to relevant information. The blog includes a live Twitter stream of news from Haiti. As the Boston Globe observes, there are 43,000 people of Haitian descent living in Greater Boston.

The New York Times, which over the past few years has morphed into one of the most Internet-savvy news organizations, has, not surprisingly, posted stories, a slideshow and a Reuters video. But the real action is taking place on The Lede, its blog for breaking news, which includes everything from staff reports to cell-phone photos posted to TwitPic. The Times has put together a Twitter list of people and organizations posting news updates about Haiti. And it is actively soliciting reports from its readers:

The New York Times would like to connect people inside and outside Haiti who are searching for information about the situation on the ground. Readers outside Haiti who have friends and relatives in the country, along with readers in Haiti who are still able to access the Internet, can use the comments section below as a forum to share updates. Some readers may be searching for the same family members.

Have you been able to reach loved ones in the area affected by the earthquake? What have you learned from people there?

National Public Radio’s efforts bear some similarities to those of the Times. NPR is concentrating its breaking-news and linking efforts on its blog The Two-Way, and it has also assembled a Twitter list.

CNN, whose iReport project is a major outlet for citizen journalists, has put together a page on the Haitian earthquake. As is often the case with citizen media, it’s not always easy to tell what you’re looking at. Some of the images are quite graphic, and are slapped with a label reading “Discretion advised.”

One of my favorite examples of professional journalists and citizen bloggers working together is Global Voices Online, a project founded at Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society several years ago. Global Voices’ editors round up bloggers from every part of the world. For the most part, they labor in obscurity. But not at moments like this.

As of this morning you’ll find a compilation of tweets and photos and a digest of what bloggers in Haiti and throughout the Caribbean are saying. Here is Afrobella, described as a “Trinidadian diaspora blogger”:

Right now my heart aches for Haiti. The already-suffering island nation was just hit with a 7.0 earthquake. A hospital has collapsed. Government buildings have been severely damaged. There was a major tsunami watch, earlier. Reports of major devastation are just starting to pour in…my thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Haiti, and anyone with friends or family in Haiti.

You can also click through directly to Afrobella’s blog.

Twitter itself is a good source of raw information. At the moment, Yéle, a charity founded by Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean, is the number-two trending topic, and “Help Haiti” is number three. If you want to dip into the Twitter torrent, try searching on #haiti.