Which tragedies? Thinking about the Buffalo plane crash

Why was the Buffalo plane crash news? Why aren’t the small plane crashes in other countries news here? And why not the suicide bombings?

I know I’m not the first one to ask these questions, and I certainly don’t think I have much original to say about them. In fact, I actually can think of some reasons why we should pay more attention to information that comes out after a crash in our country than a crash elsewhere. Safety regulation, for one — we can’t easily make comparisons between how a plane might fare here versus, say, Russia, because the regulatory structure is different.

But why the crash itself? Why is it BIG NEWS and tragedies from another country not?

Is it news media reflecting a lack of cosmopolitanism in their readers and viewers? For me, someone dying in a plane crash in Russia, or ferry capsizing in Bangladesh, is as tragic as someone dying in a crash here. Is it that others don’t feel the same way, and that media respond to those feelings? I know if I were a newspaper editor, I wouldn’t put a ferry crash on the front page if I wanted to keep my job.

Still, how many people would say they care less about the life of a Bangladeshi than they do an American? Is it unfair to assume that most people, when confronted with the situation, would say “yeah, I guess I feel pretty bad for both of them.” Sure, I can think of plenty of Americans who would say they’d choose to protect their family over some national’s. But this is a different situation in that for most of us, our families are not involved here. Most of us are observers.

From here, I see two initial options.

1. Our news media are missing a golden opportunity for profit. If they have enjoyed success from extensively broadcasting tragic accidents on our own soil, they would enjoy similar success by presenting worldwide tragedy in the same way.

2. Most U.S. citizens (or U.S. reporters) are nationalistic and don’t care very much about the fates of people in other countries. It is therefore a better business decision for news media to largely ignore other tragedies.

The second response seems more plausible to me. But then, still, when I think about it, I can’t imagine many people not expressing some sympathy or interest in fate’s intersection into others’ lives. Do they, perhaps, simply need a news media nudge that’s currently missing (and would be harder to provide traditionally with fewer foreign bureaus*?

* Fleeson, Lucinda. “Bureau of Missing Bureaus.” American Journalism Review (2003): 32-39.

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