Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Did rurality and remoteness of the Alabama hostage crisis limit its coverage?

Did the remote location of the Alabama town where a child with autism was held hostage diminish coverage of the crisis? The answer, some say, is yes. Others say that competing news, not regional or rural bias or remoteness, was the reason the hostage crisis in Midland City, Ala., failed to get more coverage. The resulting discussion presents interesting questions about the national coverage of rural events.

 Sperling's Best Places map
Chicago Sun-Times Digital Editor and Alabama native Marcus Gilme expressed his opinion that the reason the dramatic story that unfolded in the last week -- when a child was kidnapped from a school bus and held in an underground bunker for six days -- had to do with geography.

"Had it happened in a large city --  New York, Dallas, even, God forbid, Chicago -- the coverage would be constant, a 24-hour surveillance with every media outlet descending on the city," Gilme said, pointing out that the story involved the major hot topics of "gun control, safety of school children, and mental health" that would typically command national attention in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shooting.

Midland City officials asked that coverage be limited, since the kidnapper had a television in his bunker, but Gilme said that wasn't the whole reason the story wasn't bigger: He argues that since it unfolded in a small town of 2,500 people, it was more easily dismissed as "a typical redneck incident" by those in more urban communities. "This is larger than any regional bias," he wrote. "This is a national issue and we have to be willing to look past stereotypes, to be willing to accept both the smaller hyperlocal context as well as the larger, national one."

Andrew Beaujon of The Poynter Institute for Media Studies responded to Gilme's piece with his own, noting that the hostage situation "competed for media oxygen" with the Super Bowl, immigration reform and, in Chicago, gun violence. Furthermore, those who did offer coverage had few updates for readers on a situation that changed little day-to-day.

Addressing Gilme's argument about wider importance, Beaujon said plenty of stories since Newtown have spurred related debate. "The Alabama story, though, bizarre, sadly has plenty of competition for a national conversation-starter on guns," Beaujon said, citing a Slate compilation of gun deaths in the U.S. since the Newtown shooting. "At the time I write this, it records 23 kids as having been killed by gun violence after that incident."

1 comment:

Rhonda McBride said...

URBAN VS. RURAL. "Rurality" was probably a big factor in the lack of coverage of this crisis. Urban news outlets are more focused on stories closer to home and their audiences.

In 1997, the remote Alaskan community of Bethel, population 4,500, was the scene of one of the first school shootings in America. It rarely gets mentioned when discussing school shootings, although it will be included in an upcoming PBS series reacting to the Newtown tragedy.

However, I've noticed that sometimes Rural stories do get more ink or airtime if they reinforce urban stereotypes.