Media Analysis: America’s Short Attention Span

By Alex Zielinski

This week, I found an article to analyze in an interesting column (The Numerologist) on Salon.com. Written by John Sides, “On Haiti, America’s short attention span strikes again”, studies the brief yet heavy coverage of natural disasters in the U.S. media leading to the public’s equally brief interest.

Sides begins with a telling quote by an economist in the 70s, specifically targeting the current issue Sides is discussing. This introduction to the story shows how the issue is still relevant today, a disheartening example of the little change the US has made.

The body of the article covers hard facts on the amount of stories per recent natural disaster in the New York Times – the way Sides illustrates the country’s short-attention span on these problems. To further examine the issue, Sides adds a graph that plots the sharp rise and steady fall of stories related to when the disaster struck.

Aside from the obvious facts, Sides explains how this problem equally affects the readers’ take on the issue. Sides’ description of the reader’s reaction to this kind of news is all too familiar, connecting the reader (of this article) to Sides’ hypocritical member of US society.

Ultimately, Sides blames major media corporations for this pattern, showing how quickly the Dallas Morning News and the New York Times began to write stories of recovery and revitalization just a few weeks after the massive disaster which clearly couldn’t be accurate. Sides uses the most recent disaster in Haiti to illustrate the overarching issue with this media trend: it was an irrelevant place before the disaster, and will continue to be so after it’s news coverage fades away.

I enjoyed Sides’ analysis of this pattern that has been lingering behind every major disaster in the US, one which I’m sure I’ve unintentionally fallen guilty to. His use of graphs, graphics and links within his article further added to the severity of the topic. I’m now convinced that our country does face an imbalance sensitivity issue.

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