Frustrated by the Media Snub of Louisiana Flooding? Here's What To Do.
Yesterday, both CNN and Fox News got taken to task by angry people on social media. Both news outlets mentioned the devastating Louisiana floods -- but only in the context of how they affected celebrities. CNN reported, among headlines about Trump and the Olympics and someone's bathing suit, "Actor loses home in Baton Rouge flooding" and Fox said mentioned "Former 'Wire' actor Wendell Pierce loses Baton Rouge home in flood." (The trending headlines have since been updated, but the screenshots can be found here.)
That was the entire flood reporting in the list of trending headlines of those news outlets yesterday, despite the fact that at least eleven non-famous people are dead, and 40,000 more have had their homes wrecked or damaged. That's 39,999 Americans who aren't celebrities, so their very real tragedies simply didn't rate as headline news.
This is nothing new. When the Titanic sank -- arguably the first news story to get immediate, international coverage -- newspapers ran large photos of the Astors, who were aboard, and only later began to report how many third-class passengers were lost because there weren't enough lifeboats. It will always be this way: Big names sell headlines, and the suffering of nobodies gets a bored shrug, and we move on to whether or not a gymnast stuck her landing, whether Britney Spears looks more toned than last time we saw her, and whether Donald Trump is still Donald Trump.
It's frustrating, even sickening, when the news gets covered this way. But there's good news to remember.
Remember that in Heaven, there is no rich or poor -- and the same is true for the Communion of Saints, which includes all of us. To people of good will, the backwater cajun whose trailer is gone forever is just as important as the actor who is surely sad and discouraged by the loss, but who can probably just go ahead and buy another house. The aid workers on the ground would like as much help as they can get, but they're not waiting for any media bigwig to decide that their story is interesting enough; they're just plunging right in.
And remember that, in the age of social media, we can reshape the news. There is much to despise about the state of modern media, but one good thing is that regular old people with no particular influence in any other sphere can change the way the news is reported, just by talking about it a lot.
So, if we're frustrated by the imbalanced, trivial way the news is covered, what can we do? The most important thing is to respond the right way, even if your favorite news outlet refuses to do so. There are two principles to follow when you give, if you're not on site but want to help:
First: send cash, not stuff. Cash is what they really need, more than cases of water, cartons of macaroni, or used quilts and teddy bears. Aid workers on the ground, who are literally immersed in the crisis, can see the problems and the solutions more clearly than anyone else, so give them money and let them decide how to spend it. Don't clog up the works by forcing them to spend time and energy processing an unwieldy, sometimes ludicrously useless influx of donations of goods.
Second: donate to organizations that are already there, with established operations in the disaster area. As we saw with the shameful Red Cross debacle in Haiti, bigger is not always better. A charitable organization that already understands the needs of a community and has a long history of functioning there will be able to make the best, most targeted, most efficient use of donations. Baton Rouge Catholic Charities, for instance, is grateful for cash donations of any size.
And third, if you're still frustrated to see that the media's covering silly stuff and ignoring an important news story, push the news yourself. Share headlines about the victims themselves helping each other; share stories about Benedictine hospitality in its purest form, as a conservative southern baptism welcomes an unlikely set of victims into his home. Share targeted GoFundMe campaigns for individual people and families, if you feel confident that they're legitimate. This is how to make the right stories turn up in the news, even if they aren't sexy or politically advantageous or cute. This is the age of algorithms, and we can make them work to our purpose if we want to.
Of course fourth: Pray. Pray for strength and courage for the victims and the aid workers; pray that those who mourn will be comforted, and that those who died will be brought to eternal life. Pray for hope for everyone who is suffering.
And, since I opened with a celebrity, I can't resist closing that way, too: Taylor Swift is donating a million dollars to flood relief, and is encouraging others to help if they can. That's the kind of celebrity news I don't mind seeing in the headlines.