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.