Thursday, April 09, 2009

And in local news...

The news has been abuzz the last couple of days about the Somali piracy which is a fascinating story in many ways. The piracy itself which most people don't know happens in this day and age, the actual capture and recapture of the ship, the tension of the hostage-taking and resulting negotation, the deployment of U.S. forces, possible political implications, there's even news about the pirates running out of fuel. It's practically a TV movie in real life.

But the coverage in the Vermont newspapers have almost completely skipped over all of this because they're so completely distracted by one fact that seems vitally important to them, and presumably most of their readership, but which otherwise seems largely irrelevant: the captain in question happens to be from Underhill, Vermont. The headlines scream "Underhill man" and even the articles almost make it sound like some pirates snuck into Vermont, stole this guy specifically because of his Vermontiness (perhaps hoping to negotiate for some good cheese), and now the whole world is saying "Oh no, this Vermont man is being kept away from Vermont by some pirates who are not from Vermont! What a Vermont crisis this must be for all those Vermonters!"

I'm not blaming Vermont, though I'll admit that Vermont's press does seem a bit more provincial than in other places I've lived (and I mean "provincial" in both the literal and connotative senses). But this happens everywhere. For instance, this article in the Boston Globe about the same incident dwells heavily on the fact that some members of the crew who were involved in the recapture happened to be from Massachusetts, and while it tosses off the Underhill, Vermont thing, it also points out that Captain Phillips attended a Massachusetts college with equal urgency.

I'm certainly sympathetic and concerned about the captain in question, but am I more sympathetic because he happens to live in the same state as I do? Should I be? I would be entirely content if that he was from Vermont was mentioned, and for it to tweak my attention a little bit; I don't see anything wrong with that. But it seems to be so emphasized that it overshadows such "trifling" matters as what this incident implies about piracy itself, the economy, international relations, and the balance of power. There's a proper balance here: the local angle shouldn't be neglected entirely but it also shouldn't take over, and I feel like the press skews way too far.

I wonder, was it always like this, even in my youth, and I just didn't notice; or am I in a position to grumble about "the good old days" and lament the state of journalism today?

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