Royal Embarrassment

By | April 29th, 2011 | 13 Comments
Royal Wedding Screenshots

Today's 'news'. What tornados?

The death toll across the American Southeast after a reported 137 tornados barreled through with hellish fury on Wednesday evening stands at about 300, with most of the deaths recorded in Florida’s western neighbor, Alabama. In a conference call with reporters, FEMA administrator W. Craig Fugate would not estimate the number of dead for fear of floating an embarrassing lowball. While the full effect of the infrastructural destruction across the South has no dependable estimate as of yet, it is safe to predict that thousands of Americans are newly — and suddenly — homeless and scores of public schools no longer exist.

So what’s leading the homepage of the Miami Herald? “Royal watchers celebrate historic wedding”, with a photo of Prince William, in royal-blue sash and gold-embroidered epaulets, kissing his new bride, looking lovely in a wedding dress no doubt valued at several times the cost of the FEMA trailers that will no doubt arrive woefully late to those Alabamans whose homes have just been razed to the ground by the breath of Mother Nature.

The Herald is not alone in its journalistic malpractice. Locally, the Palm Beach Post is also leading with William and Kate’s wedding (in its “Celebrity Stalker” section), while the Sun Sentinel has the NFL draft featured under an eye-catching red banner promising live video of the Royal Wedding. Farther north, the many-times decorated St. Petersburg Times is featuring a photo of two middle-aged women from the Bay Area watching William and Kate on a large flat-screen television while dressed up as royalty in Wal-Mart brand tiaras. Tampa Bay, incidentally, is only a few roads and a few hundred miles from Tuscaloosa, Al., where the tornado death toll stands at 36.

To their relative credit, both the PBP and the Sun Sentinel have a story about the tornados “above the fold” on their homepages. The Herald and the St. Petersburg Times, on the other hand, each has a single story, below the fold. The word “tornado” appears on the Herald’s homepage twice. The word “wedding” appears no less than five times.

If only this were just another Florida embarrassment. No, from sea to shining sea many of the nation’s most prestigious media outlets are leading with the Royal Wedding on their websites, including the L.A. Times, CNN, and even NPR.

At this particular moment, the New York Times and (sit down) Fox News have the tornado story front and center on their homepages. The NYT has had it there since I first surveyed the American mediascape this morning. I’m pretty sure Fox was leading with William and Kate until recently, though I don’t have the screenshot to prove it.

The Washington Post is playing it coy with the tornado story top left with the page’s biggest headline, but no picture. To its right: An arresting photo of William and Kate kissing.

What all of this says about newspapers and other “traditional” media outlets is as glaring as Prince William’s red wedding coat. They’ve lost their way and, in a desperate attempt to stay relevant and afloat financially, they’re racing to the bottom on the backs of rented Clydesdales.

This is old news, of course, and I suppose I’m more disturbed by what it says about 21st Century human beings than 21st Century newspapers anyway. How can we tune into a wedding of inconsequential strangers several time zones and (seemingly) centuries away from us, when only a state away from us Floridians hundreds of Americans lie dead and thousands have just lost their homes?

I realize the preceding sentence may come off self-righteous to the highest degree, but that’s only if you read it as a rhetorical question. It isn’t. I really don’t know how we justify this.

Full disclosure: We are in a convoluted partnership with the Herald and its partner, Open Media Miami. Thus, you may have noticed the paper links to us semi-regularly from its Community News Network. In fact, we have a meeting, our first, at the Herald building today. Should be comfortable.

To view homepage screenshots of the outlets named in this taken when I wrote this post — roughly between 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. — click HERE.

13 Comments on “Royal Embarrassment”

  1. 1 Eddy Stevens-Torrealba said at 10:54 am on April 29th, 2011:

    Jordan, this is excellent, my friend.

  2. 2 Leah said at 11:18 am on April 29th, 2011:

    As someone who was living in New Orleans when Katrina hit, this makes me particularly livid. We’ll see how the government does on this one, but my verdict is in on the media. Thanks, again, for abandoning an entire part of the country.

  3. 3 Andrew Lisi said at 11:24 am on April 29th, 2011:

    While I agree with you generally, some push back is warranted. First, it is worth noting that both are “historic” events in terms of rarity – the wedding the first in 30 years and the tornadoes the worst in nearly 40.

    The push back comes regarding the general trend of news. How often do we see news outlets lead with horrendous stories? How often on the front page do we see some tragic event? How often do these same news outlets realize that the news that “sells” is the worst news? I say this because at the end of the day they all had to make a choice. Sure, it would have been a much easier choice if the sad events in the South did occur (and in no way do I want to downplay them). But I do find it rather interesting that one of the few times a celebratory and joyous event is featured over everything else, people come down hard on it and say its a disgrace to news everywhere.

  4. 4 Mike said at 11:34 am on April 29th, 2011:

    Once again the “duh” in floriduh comes shining through. And this from a media that champions education.

  5. 5 Jordan Melnick said at 12:11 pm on April 29th, 2011:

    @Andrew Your premise is that it’s more so a joyous event than any other wedding, and to me it isn’t. I couldn’t care less about William and Kate tying the knot. As an American (that is not a clause I use very often), I find the obsession with British monarchy silly. More to the point, a catastrophe across an entire region of our own country should undoubtedly take precedence over a wedding, royal, celebrity, or otherwise. As someone who knows the journalism biz, I have no doubt that the choice between leading with the wedding and leading with the tornados came down to pageviews.

    As for one Facebook commenter’s mention that Britain is the United States’ staunchest ally — which I guess implies we owe them this coverage — William and Kate’s wedding is NOT a matter of foreign policy, nor should newspapers play the role of diplomat. Ever.

  6. 6 Andrew Lisi said at 1:02 pm on April 29th, 2011:

    I wouldn’t characterize my premise with the qualification of “more joyous”, but rather a “higher profiled” joyous event. You, and many others (including myself really) “couldn’t care less”, but given your acknowledgment that “the journalism biz” comes “down to pageviews”, the biz seems to bank of the real fact that many more people do “care” and seemingly could care a heck of a lot more.

    Again, I agree with you in terms of priority from a moral standpoint, but I think it exposes the business overall. In the end, it really does come down to pageviews/viewers etc., whether the news is “joyous” or “catastrophic”. The question seems to be, “what will catch the eyes of the most people?” not “what is the most important news?”

  7. 7 Ashley said at 1:04 pm on April 29th, 2011:

    Would you expect any less from the American media? I wouldn’t.

  8. 8 Patricia Bee said at 1:10 pm on April 29th, 2011:

    @Andrew: Why should anyone, least of all Americans, deem important or worthy of their attention a wedding about British royalty? This couple has no more importance in the lives of Americans than Brangelina, yet many of them, and obviously you as well, have allowed themselves to be completely co-opted by corporate media into believing it is an event of historic proportions, while there are bills being passed in in your state legislature that are going to make life dramatically worse for people you pass in the street every day, and barely anyone cares.

    Doubtless you will one of the millions who will also be weeping when the “happy couple” divorces within the decade.

  9. 9 William said at 2:42 pm on April 29th, 2011:

    I cared more about the NFL pick results. Who did the Tornadoes draft?

  10. 10 Rick said at 8:31 pm on April 29th, 2011:

    “While I agree with you generally, some push back is warranted.”

    Ummm, no, not really.

    Word, Jordan. I’m glad someone said it.


  11. 11 Damien said at 10:10 pm on April 29th, 2011:

    Well said. Today’s display by the media was beyond shallow and beyond disgusting. It’s as if we never had a revolution and royals from England are automatically more important than hundreds of dead, hundreds of thousands of newly homeless and thousands of injured right here at home.

  12. 12 Mike LaMonica said at 7:33 am on April 30th, 2011:

    News travels at various speeds and it is given different priorities as it travels. There’s Twitter time, there’s www time (yes the two are different), there’s broadcast news time and there’s newspaper time.

    I first read this article on my iPhone and thought what a frickin’ disgrace??? How dare all these newspapers have their pages prioritized like this?

    Then I got my glasses and got on my computer only to see you used screenshots, most of them right at the “critical moment” right after the royal wedding- between 9ish and 10:30. So I said to myself, “fair enough, they got their hour or two. Now let’s focus on the real story- the tornado disasters right here at home.”

    I was glad to see that Brian Williams was reporting from Alabama last night and that it was the lead story. NBC also had reporters in many areas where the tornadoes hit. So I thought all is right with the world again. Wedding’s over and we can come back to reality. Just to be sure I looked at this morning’s screenshots of The Miami Herald and The Sun Sentinel.

    Cliff Notes on the Herald:

    Main stories- NFL draft, The NFL Lockout, Pics of William and Kate, Delray Man bitten by shark, Riviera man threatens pharmacy employee for oxycodone.

    Sun Sentinel:

    Obama speaks at MDC, royal wedding misc, last call for UM Rathskeller.

    I’m embarrassed for us. Great post.


  13. 13 Maria de los Angeles said at 12:32 pm on April 30th, 2011:

    Even without the tornadoes, I was so *over* this wedding before it even happened. Thank God it’s over. And thanks for writing this!

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