The Christian Science Monitor reported Friday that there had been a fatal shark attack in Florida.
This is a good example of how the news is the great agenda setter of our time. According to the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida’s museum there have only been 14 fatal shark attacks in florida since 1982. There have only been 610 shark attacks since 1982. However, those numbers seem low compared to our notions of what happens to surfers in wet suits on Floridian beaches.
Every element of the story made it appear that shark attacks are a common occurence on the ocean. Even the man who attempted to save the victim’s life had once been bitten by a shark.
The cutline said it best….
“Lifeguard Dan Lund, who’d once been bitten by a shark himself, paddled out to bring back surfer Stephen Schafer, the victim of a shark attack Wednesday.”
The first five paragraphs of the story recounted the dramatic events that led to the surfer’s death. The story was complete with hero Dan Lund attempting to save the surfer’s life by thrusting him onto the surfboard and paddling him back to shore amongst a groups of several sharks.
While the first couple of grafs are all about the incident, the last several are about how uncommon these attacks even are. I would have to say that the most readers will never get to those bottom paragraphs. Therefore, many are left with the horrific idea that these attacks are looming on beaches everywhere.
I don’t blame the paper or the reporter. The news is that the attack happened. In fact, the more uncommon an attack is the more likely the story is to attract readers. The more rare an event is, the more news worthy it is. However, this is a situation where the inverted pyramid presents an unfortunate problem.