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Time well spent

September 14, 2009 - Michael Palmer
This time of year I work evenings to cover sporting events. This means I often arrive after most of the newsroom has gone home and we are always busy. I get notes, e mails and phone messages daily that keep me updated, but one last week was unusual.

The receptionist has left me a note that a college student needed a person employed in the media to respond to a few questions from his journalism assignment. A local high school graduate, he had called his ’hometown’ newspaper looking for help. Having hit a dead end in attempting to contact someone willing to assist with the problem, she had left me a note.

I am the parent of a college student, I had an idea of what he was up against, so I sent him a reply and asked if I could help.

He sent five interesting questions. Posted below are the questions and my responses:

1. What do you see as the positive and negative impacts, on public safety services, of the intense media coverage that occurs today? Primarily, the increase in access to media has made a positive impact on society. The most dramatic examples of this can be found in public safety as Amber Alerts and Weather advisories are effective methods for saving lives. This increase in technology also impacts our privacy, which is a negative result of the increase and promotes the "Big Brother" is watching fears among the population.

2. Does the media coverage of public safety events, as we experience it today, provide a public service or is it just a business? The bottom line, will it sell, these are of course the main concern when you run a business. High profile news and sporting events sell papers, magazines and advertising. As the economy tightens and with the increase in infomercials, it has caused a decline in the "Public Service" coverage.

3. What are your major considerations when deciding whether to cover a particular story or event? In it's pure sense, news should be covered because it is a important or civically noteworthy event. Again this response is related to the other responses. Financially it may not be feasible to send a news crew, reporter or photographer to an event that will effect a small number of people or just one specific community. The major crimes, events, fatalities and sporting venues are no brainers, they will be covered.

4. Do you see a role for the media in supporting public safety efforts? Give an example of such a role. The media is important to making the general public aware. This not only applies to watches and warnings, but also can provide information on levies and fund raising efforts by public safety agencies. Media is also an effective tool to disseminate information to the general public. The recent media frenzy over the H1N1 Swine Flu virus is an example of how this system can work.

5. How has media coverage of public safety changed in the past five years? The change in media coverage of public safety in the past five years can be linked to two significant events. The first and foremost was Hurricane Katrina. This event has pointed out how the increased media coverage both provides warning, promotes aid and reconstruction both while it illustrates short comings in the government's public safety system. The second would be the current H1N1 coverage. Despite a rather embarrassing no show with previous pandemic scare over Bird Flu, the media has chosen to continue to provide coverage of a possible flu outbreak. The determination of their motives, whether it be to scare or prepare may be a bone of contention to be chewed.

After a week I received a note of thanks:

Dear Mr.Palmer,

I just wanted to let you know that i received a perfect score on my assignment that you helped me out with. I wish to thank you once again for taking time out for me. Many Thanks and God Bless...Mark McConnaughy

I still have it, I received a perfect score! Okay, we received a perfect score. Awesome!


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