Media Sensationalism of Dangerous Weather

It is no surprise that our media go a little crazy, to say the least, when it comes to reporting extreme weather.  It is a proven fact that ratings go up everytime they cover natural disasters.  The public seems to get a thrill from watching Mother Nature gone wild, even if it's on the other side of the globe.  From monsoons to wildfires to blizzards to hurricanes, networks trot out their intrepid meteorologists and beat journalists to brave the elements and give us the scoop on the devastation being caused. 

I do not deny that major storms are newsworthy, but when does it cross the line into exploitation?  When do media exceed their duty to inform the public and enter an area of profiteering from the misfortune of others?  The hysteria over the recent harsh winter, which many jokingly labeled the "Snowpocalypse," seems to be rather tame compared to the frenzy over the recent wave of deadly tornados sweeping the American Midwest.

Like any other person, even I am compelled to look at all the images and video of destruction, unable to look away.  Tales of survival amid the mayhem are inspirational and stories of loss of lives and property are heartbreaking.  Yet, is it necessary to treat such trauma as a morbid form of entertainment?

I was particularly annoyed with a teaser commercial on the National Geographic Channel today, which seemed to boast about all the footage obtained by the network's tornado hunters.  Dramatic music and cinematic editing made the clips of violent cyclones destroying everything in their paths seem like the latest popcorn movie trailer.  It was almost as if the execs at National Geographic could not contain their giddy excitement over having such incredible documentation of the storms that killed so many and displaced so many more.  Lives were ruined and now some are reaping rewards.

There is undoubtedly a place for fictional sensationalism to excite audiences -- I enjoyed Gus Van Sant's blockbuster film Twister and who can deny the greatness of the tornado scene in The Wizard of Oz?  But when it comes to real life natural disasters, I would hope that professional journalists and mass media practitioners (and even my fellow bloggers) show a sense of decorum when such wild weather occurs.