Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Better Early Than Never

Something crucial is plummeting and the press is panicking!

Barack Obama's poll numbers? Well, yes.

But, something else is plummeting and the press is panicking!

Via CNN, an AP article (also picked up in the Star Tribune and around the country) on the latest developments in the Arctic:

New satellite measurements show that crucial sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has plummeted to its second lowest level on record.

If you lean in close to your computer screen, you can almost hear the panting and whimpering from the reporters who wrote this.

I humbly submit to you that when the opening sentence of any text contains two emotionally charged terms, the intent is to persuade and motivate behavior rather than inform. (Or you happen to be reading the Weekly World News.)

Call me old-fashioned, but when I'm reading the news, I like my information the old fashioned way, informational. Leave the high pressure sales job to the circulation department telemarketers.

More from the Plummeting Crucialness Crisis Center:

The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., announced Wednesday that the extent of sea ice in the Arctic is down to 2.03 million square miles. The lowest point on record is 1.65 million square miles set last September.

Hmmm. The lowest ever recorded was just last year. And we have more crucial sea ice this year than we did last year. More than just a few ice cube trays full. According to my calculations, 380,000 square miles of it. To put that in perspective for the layman, that's enough ice to chill the Atomizer's Gin Rickies for about 3 months. Stunning, isn't it?

In light of this positive trend, the opening of this article could instead, quite factually, be written as:

"New satellite measurements show that CRUCIAL sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has EXPLODED by 23% over the last year."

Side bar stories about how this cooling is bound to kill off rare pink flamingo flocks in Bolivia and the spike in sales of Ice Age Home Insurance would be perfect.

I know, I know (/ty coughlin), the summer ain't over yet. The plummeting of the crucial sea ice could continue to unprecedented depths. In the AP's words:

With about three weeks left in the melt season, the record may fall, scientists say.

Hope springs eternal! Good luck with that AP.

However, if a new record low for crucial sea ice is indeed news, shouldn't you wait until that record is achieved before writing about it? Why do we need the scream headline preview of what might happen in just a few weeks?

Whatever the reason, it seems to be a press standard. Harkening way back to June of 2005, when American resolve to win the Iraq war was something the press could still erode, the Pioneer Press printed an article speculating that the month could be among the deadliest so far, based on mid-month totals.

My reaction then, as now:

If reporting the month end casualties for June as a barometer of the success for our efforts in Iraq is so damned important, why not wait until the facts actually present themselves before guessing about them in print?

My conclusion on motive, it's best to get the story out now, in case the hoped for scenario doesn't actually occur. It can be harder to scare/motivate people with the news if you wait for the facts.

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