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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The restoration will not be televised

Daily Bruin (U-WIRE)

LOS ANGELES – Winding down after a long day, I switched on the radio to hear an advertisement for a TV show about a girl who acquired psychic powers after surviving Hurricane Katrina. Strange events are now occurring in New Orleans — Friday at 7, on Channel 6.

Sure, the real New Orleans isn’t haunted by a telepathic girl’s mischief, but today it virtually appears as a ghost town, according to third-year sociology student Farrah Bhaiji.

Bhaiji volunteered in New Orleans with a group of UCLA students in early May through the volunteer organization Relief Spark. Eight months after Hurricane Katrina, the surreal picture is completed by the desolate streets, the houses literally lying on

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their sides and the makeshift villages of tents. But for some reason, real-life surrealism just doesn’t cut it for TV, while tacky scripts manage to fill prime-time slots. The media responds immediately when these events are breaking news, but as soon as they fade into old news they are quickly forgotten. News about Katrina saturated the media quickly after it struck; today, crisis in the city is still severe, but it hardly receives any coverage. The media has the upper hand in determining which national events receive our attention, obscuring our perception of the reality in these places.

Since the average citizen has neither the time nor the equipment to travel and investigate current events firsthand, we rely on the media for our information about the world. Whether we like it or not, we’re enslaved to the version of the world the media decides to market. I spoke to some students who actually did get a chance to travel and investigate current events in New Orleans by volunteering. But their firsthand accounts of New Orleans’ devastation aren’t reflected in the media coverage of today.

According to the students I talked to, New Orleans remains a city infiltrated by mold.Bodies are still being found, with body counts and inspection notes often spray-painted on the houses. Education is haphazard, with students crammed into temporary K-12 settings. Many survivors are still homeless, living in places such as trailers and cars.

Additionally, in order to prevent their homes from being completely bulldozed in late August, many people are frantically finding means to gut their houses by ripping away appliances, drywall and essentially all parts of the house except for the foundation. This process is strenuous and requires the use of full protective gear such as oxygen masks, hard hats, boots and other thick apparel.

Such efforts require the help of many people because of the sheer amount of work that needs to be done. Diana Essex, a third-year international development studies student and one of those who helped coordinate UCLA students to go help in New Orleans, noted the volunteer presence was smaller than she expected. Essex and participant Becky Brewer, a third-year sociology student, said someone at the volunteer shelter mentioned it had housed more than a thousand volunteers at one point.

Brewer said when they went to New Orleans, the shelter accommodated them and just one other group of volunteers. Brewer noted that, “Because the awareness has tapered off, I think the volunteerism has tapered off.”

The attention spans of the public and the media are cruelly short. Though it’s not necessary to continue with the influx of disaster coverage after time has passed, it is frustrating when media coverage falls off altogether. In some instances, such as the case of New Orleans, this sudden loss of attention can result in decreased volunteerism, stalling efficient recovery.

True, news stories can’t broadcast the same Katrina coverage over and over again. But they should offer significant coverage of the ongoing cleanup issues to help sustain public activism. When it comes to reality, the media just doesn’t show enough, unless it’s following the recent hype of breaking news.

The result? The creation of a false perception of reality, in which scripted shows take precedence over coverage of real, ongoing crises.

Maybe I’ll tune in to the show advertised on the radio at this point, it seems to offer the closest possible glimpse into the ongoing horrors in New Orleans.