Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Wheel of Death

When you work on a newspaper copy desk, you read just about every story that comes across the wire. A small portion of those make it into the newspaper. So you learn a lot about the world, and you learn a lot about perspective. If you take a news writing class, you will learn that proximity is a key news value. The closer something happens to you, the more important it is.

For instance, when I worked on the copy desk at the Albuquerque Journal, one of editors had a scale for converting misery into Duke City relevancy. I believe he called it the "Wheel of Death." Although it sounds morbid, we had to choose what made it into the paper and what did not. If someone in Albuquerque died through tragedy or foul play, that usually made the paper. Just one person. However, if a small mudslide in Bangladesh killed 5 people, that probably would not make the paper even as a brief. Whether they should or not, no one in the Land of Enchantment much cares about a few lost souls in Asia. The "Wheel of Death" sounds like a cold, calous way to debase human life, and perhaps it is. But it is also a cold, true equation that not all deaths are equally valuable. Thus, my former editor said that 5 people dying in Bangladesh was "like someone in Albuquerque getting a hangnail."

We had a real-life example of the "Wheel of Death" yesterday in America. The thousands of lives lost in the Gulf Coast region were suddenly cast aside when the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, William H. Rehnquist died. All of a sudden, CNN stopped talking about the hurricane -- a staple for the past week -- and focused entirely on a single individual.

I started collegiate life as a political science major with an emphasis on constitutional law, so I understand the importance of a new chief justice. Yet it was interesting to observe the "Wheel of Death" at work. One military official told CNN that the final death toll of Katrina will be "Maybe 3,000, maybe 5,000. God, we hope it's no more than 10,000." Thus, for one evening at least, the "Wheel of Death" equation yielded a ratio of perhaps 1:10,000. I make no judgment, but I offer this observation.

1 Comments:

Blogger tonyyy said...

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