April 2, 2005

Amplitude Adjustment


I was interested in this photo, from last Tuesday, graphing the devastating 8.7 magnitude earthquake off Sumatra.

For a moment, however, I imagined this as a device that could measure the size of a story’s media impact.  If such an instrument did exist, I was thinking it would be interesting to get read outs according to more specific factors, such as a story’s impact relative to the number and intensity of other stories competing for attention; news magnitude relative to number of lives at stake (including geographic location and income level); or story strength as a factor of moral, political, sexual or scandal value.

I’m not meaning to be sanctimonious.  However, I think I’m experiencing a mild trauma reaction to the unremitting waves of shocks and aftershocks from the Schiavo earthquake and the seemingly concurrent Pope tidal wave. 

If you go along with the association, though, what might the finger suggest?  Could it be marking the point at which public reaction might have tapered off if the media’s own shaking hadn’t resulted in exacerbating these disturbances?  Does it indicate the point at which media experts realized — too late — that the Shiavo tremor was caused by a release of political pressure along a major ideological fault line?

I was reading this morning how the death toll in Indonesia is now estimated at around 1,500.  Of course, that barely makes an impression compared to the over 250,000 who died last December.  On the other hand, in looking for a update this morning on the latest quake coverage, the news — — rather than summarizing loss, damage or relief effort —  was dominated by reports of the crash of an Australian relief helicopter and the death of its 11 crew members.

I had been working on one more post about the Pope.  I had still been looking at many moving and unselfconscious images, and the poignant lesson the Pope continues to offer about death as a process, as opposed to an event.  I was going in that direction, but suddenly, with the amplitude of the death watch, it seemed the message was just drowned out.

(image: Dadang Tri/Reuters)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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