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How many deaths make a disaster newsworthy? (ourworldindata.org)
125 points by anigbrowl 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 111 comments



What is interesting is the Touhoku earthquake and tsunami and the resulting Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Which one is the best known? In the west, I'd say Fukushima. And yet, the nuclear disaster caused zero direct fatalities. The consequences, the evacuation in particular, killed maybe a few hundreds. That's definitely not insignificant, but to think that it overshadowed an earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 15000...


It is also who dies. Five American dying in Iraq is a tragedy worth reporting, a few hundred dying in American bombing is not so much.

Media is controlled (either directly or due to false sense of patriotism) or biased. Probably both.


In most countries media are licensed so they can't publish anything too harsh against the government.


Perhaps that's another variable dictating their biases.


This annoys me so much. They are all Humans.


Japan is basically an honorary European nation as far as the West cares. They kind of earned it. Ever since they realized they were behind in the 1800s they've done everything the western nations have done (good and bad) and done them as well or better.


They started with invading German islands in the Pacific Ocean in WW1 - this got them into the League of Nations. This was just 20 years after they invaded Korea and the Liaodong peninsula, and just 50 years after the Meiji revolution ended Samurai culture. The turnabout in culture is very remarkable.


They started well before then, with the Russo-Japanese war in 1904. 36 years after the Meiji restoration, they took on Russia and won.

Not that military prowess should necessarily be the metric of civilisation, but Japan was/is a damned impressive culture by that metric, as well as many others.


Russia was hoping to get a warm-water port in the bay between Liaodong and Korea. Too bad Japan was already there, having invaded 8 years prior.


In one sense, this comment...

is holding Japan in a great light

but also looking down on it

as though Europe is in a position to confer honor

a Western point of view


This comment would be less silly if the above hadn't made it clear that the "honour" is entirely from a western point of view.

It is then up to any japanese / non-western readers whether they give a shit about the honour conferred by some westerners.

Honour (like most things) is subjective and varies from culture to culture. Perhaps the day a universal register of honour is established you can post your comment again when some westerner applies to give honour to the japanese again.


Everyone is in a position to confer honor. You just happen to be on a western website witnessing it.


>Japan is basically an honorary European nation as far as the West cares.

>[that is] a Western point of view

???


whether you like it or not the world still revolves around the west. even if it is less so than in the past, militarily and economically the world is led by the west.


>whether you like it or not the world still revolves around the west

People in the west like to think that.

After one has lived for a while in an Asian, African, Latin American etc country, they get to see that billions of people, the 80% of the global population, could and don't give a fuck about the going's on in the west -- except when they're forced to deal with it (e.g. militarily).

E.g. the Chinese might care for selling to US/Europe -- but that doesn't mean they also care for our beliefs, history, philosophy, moral outrages, outlook on life, charts, stars, concerns, or any other such thing that we take as some kind of "physical law".


No way.. I have spent the last 6 years living in Mexico, Colombia, and Japan. Our culture dominates, absolutely. They strive, especially in Mexico and Colombia, to be like us in the West.


If you mean in trying to make money as well, have luxuries like in the West and things like that, that has been a global concern since before West and East were met.

Even so, Mexico is next to the states and has some millions of US immigrants and wannabe immigrants, and still -- they have their own culture, morals, etc, and the typical western concerns are not their thing.

So, I was talking more about the cultural and societal aspects. They'll still watch some popular Hollywood movie or have teenagers listening to Cardie B, but they live in their own, different, world, as oblivious to the West as a Oklahoman farmer or a NY gallery owner is oblivious to them and their world.


You should do some traveling to major cities in Latin America.


Please explain how Columbia or Mexico is not west, goegraphically or culturally.


West is not a geography, it's a state of mind (and a history).

Geopolitically it just refers to US/Canada and Europe (and perhaps Japan).

Mexico and Columbia belong to the Latin American world -- which has diversity within it, of course, but Europe for one, also has.

It's a quite old distinction that's used all the time.

See how Wikipedia maps the "Western world":

"(...) what is known today as described by the term "The West": United States of America and Canada, European Union and European Free Trade Association member states, Israel, Australia and New Zealand"

and:

"The term "Western world" is sometimes interchangeably used with the term First World or developed countries, stressing the difference between First World and the Third World or developing countries." (which also doesn't include Mexico and Columbia)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_world

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_World


> West is not a geography, it's a state of mind (and a history).

All I can collect from your comment is that what defines West is capitalist economy (which is not a bad thing per se) and a vague self referential form of identity that blends money and religion.

UK voted to leave EU et al, and even though they wont really be leaving in a literal sense of the word, does their having preferred to leave not make them also leave the "state of mind" you mention? Is the UK thus less "Western" now?


>All I can collect from your comment is that what defines West is capitalist economy (which is not a bad thing per se) and a vague self referential form of identity that blends money and religion.

Well, we've mentioned Economy, religion, culture -- what else do you think should have been included and is missing?

It's like saying all that defines a chair is shape, size and its use (for sitting).


Especially running concentration camps and ethnic cleansing some western nations are known for.


I wonder if its because a natural disaster sort of evokes a 'oh thats a shame' reaction, while something man-made is more of a 'how could they do this to us' 'theres something we can do to fix this' type response


Both have good eyeball grabbing potential but for different reasons. They both fit into a storyline that captures our survivalistic imagination owing to our evolutionary roots. In the former it's "I'd better watch out for disasters like that one" and in the latter its "I'd better watch out for people like that." I don't think most people 'click the link' because they are in problem solving mode, that happens after they've read the shocking headline.


Most people I know I think knows that the Fukushima disaster happened because of a tsunami. They are connected and equally known


I think most people know about the tsunami if they think about it, but what sticks in the mind is Fukushima. The seismic event that killed 15,000 people in Japan, probably the country best prepared for earthquakes and tsunamis, was largely overshadowed, at least outside Japan, by the ensuing nuclear disaster.


My friend who's a Probabilistic Risk Assessment guy in the nuclear industry swears that the problem with nuclear is that there haven't been enough accidents. If there were more stories where something happened and no one died and no one got enough dose for a cancer, it'd lose its novelty and end up like natural gas plant explosions that kill a few dozen; 4th page news. I haven't fully agreed with him yet but I think there's at least some truth to this.

Antinuclear groups to this very day are blaming decreased fertility rates on Three Mile Island from 1979. The story has comical staying power as is.


That feels so wrong. I don't know much but probability of extreme event is a field of study already. Instead of waiting for more accident why he can't use those models?


The PRA methods that have been developed by the nuclear industry are now used to study low probability events in other fields. My friend uses these professionally to help guide decisions in nuclear reactor designs.

But what I'm saying is that one of the issues in public perception of nuclear energy is that events are extremely rare, so when they do happen, they are huge stories in the media that everyone cares about. Even if something small happens at a nuclear plant, there's a media frenzy about it because of the nature of people's understanding of radiation. He says, mostly jokingly, that if accidents at nuclear plants were as common as they are during other industrial activities, maybe people would get used to the incidents and not worry about them as much.

Very few people understand the nuance of background radiation, sensitivity of detectors, dose units, danger as a function of dose, linear no-threshold, etc.


understood


Or Banqiao dam, with a death toll of 171,000.


Banqiao was suppressed by Chinese authorities. Though yess, it's the singgle wworst industrial or energy-related disaster ever.

It occurred in 1975, but information didn't start to emerge until the 1990s, and is still pretty spotty, though you'll see mention in compendia of power-related technologies and risk, such as the IPCC's assessment.

Wikipedia remains amongst the most accessible sources, though there are now published accounts. I only discovered the disaster myself a few years ago; it remains the single most fascinating disaster, with many lessons directly applicable to nuclear power risks from engineering, management, government, preparedness, risk forecasting, response, and lessons learnt (or not). All human factors, poorly amenable to technical solutions.


How does the collapse of a hydrodynamic dam for power generation factor in to nuclear power risks?

Hydro dams fall under renewable power, not under nuclear power.


This list still applies:

> engineering, management, government, preparedness, risk forecasting, response


Poor design, ignored warnings, mismanagement, missing disasters (Typhoon Nina intersecting acold fron and stalling over the dam, dumping 1060mm of rain in 24 hours), poor communications, inadequate disaster and response plan, no public emergency bulletin system, no emergecy transport, rescue, recovery, or supplies & infrastructure capabilities, and a 40-year cover-up. Read the Wikipedia article. It is good.

Only about 26,000 people died of the immediate flooding itself. Over 150,000, six times as many, died from disease or starvation. All of those deaths could have been avoided, even with total dam failure, given land-use planning, warnings, diversion dikes, and refuge shelters elevated only modestly from the floodplain, plus an immediate R&R andaid mission.

Virtually all the failures had nothing to do with the underlying power conversion process itself. All are intrinsic to any large, complex, institutional engineering project. None can simply be engineered away: they require continual human process management. All are equally intrinsic to nuclear power operations.

Most significantly, the risk book on Banqiao has been closed, and was within a few weeks or months, at most, from the isaster. There is no residual disaster risk. Unlike Hartford, or Chernobyl, or Fukushima, or other nuclear disaster sites, there is no multi-century exclusion zone with a glowing heap of deadly slag at its centre. None of these sites have final management plans in place, in cases decades on.

Banqiao is now home to tens of millions of inhabitants, and a few memories of what went wrong.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banqiao_Dam

Proponents of nuclear power assume that we can assess risks with tails not of the decade or so of Banqiao, but of 100, 1,000, 1 million years. Utterly outside the scope of any human institutions, or of the human species itself.

Our models of risks and of costs fail us....

The problems with nuclear power are massive, long-tailed, systemic and potentially existential. The same cannot be said of a wind farm or solar array. There is no significant 10,000 year threat from wind power, or solar power. We're not risking 30 - 60 km exclusion zones, on an unplanned basis, of which we've created at least four in the half-decade of significant nuclear energy applications: Hanford, Washington, Three Mile Island, Pennsyvania, Chernobyl, Ukraine, and Fukushima, Japan. And this is with a global plant of some 450 operating nuclear power plants as of 2017....

If the total experience has been, say, 500 reactors, over 50 years, or 25,000 reactor-years of experience, and we've experienced at least four major disasters, then our failure rate is 0.016%.

The global share of nuclear power generation in 2012 was about 10%.[4] Which means that without allowing for increased electrical consumption within existing or extending to developing nations, the plant count would have to increase tenfold.

Holding the reactor-year failure rate constant would mean 80 core meltdowns per century. Reducing that to the present rate of four meltdowns/century would require reducing the failure rate to 0.0008%. That's five nines, if anyone's counting.

Five nines on a process involving weather, politics, business, social upheaval, terrorism, sabotage, individual psychology, group psychology, climate, communications, response, preparedness....

https://old.reddit.com/r/dredmorbius/comments/6rmupo/open_th...

https://old.reddit.com/r/dredmorbius/comments/2awjj2/thought...

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14896581


Is no one else going to say this? Fine.

Most so-called "journalism" is in fact a rush to capture as many eyeballs as possible for the purpose of displaying advertising. These patterns make a lot more sense once viewed through the adtech lens: news outlets aren't publishers or providers of information; they're sellers of an audience to advertisers. This is their primary mission, fueled in turn by the desire to self-perpetuate.


How do state broadcasters fit into this theory? The CBC and BBC produce content in a similar style to the for-profit broadcasters (better, but definitely similar in more ways than its not), but without the advertising mission.


State broadcasters have a larger surface area offering a more political goal. After all, it's state-run.

Most people can see this effect more clearly on the state-run news outside their own country.


Not always - the BBC was mentioned above and they are far less politicised than many of the other U.K. news outlets. It is argued that any bias comes from the demographic of those who want to work there rather than political pressure from above. A good local news source that is government funded, Radio New Zealand, would fall into the same catagory in my opinion. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_the_BBC


it is true, but is it bad that jornalists are so solective? do you want news network which will cover news on all continents, to report all kind of disaster "yesterday from food shortage died 10k people in X, today is also 5k died". Such network will be flooded with boring, unrelevant (for most) information. And it will be hard to find timeworthy article amongst all the trash (and it's your time).


I'd agree and the easiest examples are in political coverage. By getting people fired up and angry they can ensure they stay tuned through the next day and keep a captive (and angry) audience


The newsworthiness of disasters has nothing to do with the number of deaths. It has to do with how dramatic and visually interesting the circumstances were (volcanoes and earthquakes are more dramatic than droughts and famine) and, at least for American media, whether the victims were American. Bonus points if the victims were children.


While I partly agree, I remember examples such as the terrorist attacks in Paris where it was covered on every media for a long period in time, and a few months later there was a mass killing in Afghanistan with way more deaths and obviously was done in the same dramatic way but most media didn't even cover it. I'd say it has to do with how unexpected is that event to happen. Same applies to people's grief. Everyone had some sort of support for paris up, or even with the newspaper attack ze suis etc, noone cared about what happened in Afghanistan. :/


From the American eye, Paris != Afghanistan

Afghanistan is considered more of a war zone and a home for extremists.

Paris is considered more of a vacation destination and the city of love.


This is news in general. If it's not "new" it's not "news".


I don’t think you looked at parent comment closely enough.


It also has to do with how similar the victims are to you. So, European victims are nearly as noteworthy as American victims. See the last graph in the article.


Also, status: rich, beautiful, talented, celebrity, etc.

The uncomfortable truth is most people ignore the deaths of homeless people, migrants, poor and anyone in far-off lands because they lack familiarity, propinquity and/or similarity to get invested in. It takes an extreme example for people to care: young girl shot in the head by the Taliban and survives.


How is that an uncomfortable truth? Thousands die from unnatural causes every day. You can't care about all of them.


What's uncomfortable is the hypocrisy - that people supposedly "care in general", whereas they're only interested in select cases.


True, see also:

Galtung, J.; Holmboe Ruge, M. (1965). "The Structure of Foreign News. The Presentation of the Congo, Cuba and Cyprus Crises in Four Norwegian Newspapers"

which is also summarized at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_values


Two other major factors is the novelty and randomness of the disaster. One can compare a buss crash on the motorway vs smaller airplane crash where the number of deaths are equal.


There is obviously good amount of relevance (of all shades, be it political, regional, communal etc) affecting reporting, and discretion applied that skips certain events, but I want to say something tangential.

To me, it appears that the modern epidemic of equating live TV coverage where reporters blabber inconsequrentialities with an event being in the news is the cause for the feeling that the article espouses. Doesn't a 60 second mention about an event suffice? The larger point is, how does this 'coverage' really help the cause? Surely, reporting a disaster, with brief visuals, will alert the volunteers to do their bit for humanity, but showing private human emotions for days and days is something I never understood. It can't be anything but politically motivated propaganda. It also smacks of commodification of victims for a sort of depraved entertainment value. I often feel that a disaster that suits a tv station's agenda is a relief to them because they don't have to worry about programming and can simply milk it till they get bored.

One could argue, correctly, that when an event is reported only briefly on tv it doesn't remain in people's memory. This is where I favor newspapers to tv news. Although there is still a bias here too - an event being reported on front page, with pics etc, or in the fifth page column 2, or nowhere at all - it is relatively indelible. The cliched Hollywood character that pins newspaper clippings to remember an event sort of corroborates what I am saying.

That said, I must say that I am not a fan of all these award winning gut wrenching pictures of human tragedies because I refuse to believe that the photographer is not manipulating. News via visual media is always less trustworthy to me than news via written word. Atleast with the latter, we can sense the tone, inclinations, sophistry etc which is extremely hard with visual medium. For instance, every documentary looks manipulative to me, so I never value news disseminated via visual medium, except for some events like Hindenberg disaster, Tsunamis etc which can't be described in words.


Its not the death count, type of disaster or sympathy for similar/popular. Its novelty of news. A disaster that is unique, novel or unexpected will get the attention of news readers.

A terrorist attack in a third world will not get the same attention as a tsunami or mudslide(because the later occur less often) and much less than a new disease that kills a dozen people. There is a subconscious risk-estimating going on "is disaster X relevant/close/threat to me", but the novelty of new information is the key for news coverage and subsequent interest.

An easy way to increase novelty is to add something unique: instead of 20 people died in X, add their names and their occupations, how they died, in-depth material/interviews - all things that increase engagement and empathy.

A simple news broadcast that searches for scoops and immediate facts is quite dry and non-appealing, like a weather report for most people. People better absorb news in format of something similar to opinion piece/entertainment, regardless of its accuracy/neutrality.

All coverage is building engagement. People relate to the event from more angles. Emotional connections form, sympathy and sense of relatedness. To some it might be a soap opera, but it also relieves their personal fears and problems - in a sort of twisted escapism, like watching disaster movies or horror films.


Power=Reach x Persuasiveness according to Scott Adams, a change from the old Power = Money x Willingness to do evil. By this, reach increases as a function of novelty and existing reach, if we can take fore granted that humans “like” shiny. Ie. the coverage is rational self interest.


What is missing is how relatable the victim of the disaster is.

Self > Family > Neighbor > City > State > Country > Region

... also in a different direction, race, gender, economic status, shared culture, etc.

Something along the lines of "how much the victim reminds me of myself". In other words the trolley dilemma.

In some senses it might be morally objectionable to value some people more than other people, but in other senses it makes sense. Do you care exactly as much about your child as you do about the other 2 billion children in the world? Would you forgo feeding your child in order to feed someone else's? Of course not. It is a difficult subject.


You can add "species" at the front of your second list.


In 1990 around 170,000 Kashmiri Hindus were pushed out of Kashmir, the eventual number over time became 400,000 but it's estimated over 2000 were killed by Muslims in Kashmir. This was in the news but hardly made it to regular headlines like the Rohingyas did, even the aftermath is reported but hardly in the same way. The reason? Because Hindus are he majority in India, however in Kashmir they are the minority. My point is that sometimes it's about preconceptions about the media as to who matters and who doesn't rather than the number of deaths. There is a value on a human head, sad really.


i remember hearing somewhere that UNICEF determined that contribution rates were maximal if they showed a poor little boy in a starving nation, or a poor little girl, similarly. But if they showed the boy and girl together the contribution rates went down significantly. A conjecture was the more numbers of people in despair there is, the less empowered you feel to help.


What about an alternative conjecture - they can help each other?


This article seems to either miss the point or deplore the reality that the news media is an entertainment business, not an important information dissemination service. What gets "on the news" is what will get eyes on the commercials/clicks on the ads, in the judgment of the editors.


I've always dreamt of a news services that serves structured and data driven news. E.g. each news report contains attributes about the number of casualties, geographical area affected, estimated economic damages, the period of time and the type of event (e.g. crime, military operation, statement, weather, natural disaster, legal, election outcome, public gathering, trend/speculation etc) and the level of reliability (verified, reported, alleged etc). The article body is secondary.


I believe something like this is valuable to insurance agencies and quite likely also hedge funds and investment banks.

You could even hand out free access to NGOs and have a super-nice landing page with a world map with circles in different colors and sizes to get an overview of what's going on.

Finally, I think I would love it, too, though I am not sure whether I'd pay for it. Also, expect to be censored, so China is probably not a market.

If you manage to do it, I think it's a valid business model.

Also, it'd be a great counter to biased media and, thereby, a service to the world.


I wonder if there's something amounting to this for a Bloomberg terminal.


This reminds me of a supposed quote by Joseph Stalin:

"A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."


Or

"Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a God" -Jean Rostand (and Megadeth :))


Should be ... "You were a god"



> "I tell people that if it's in the news, don't worry about it. The very definition of "news" is "something that hardly ever happens." It's when something isn't in the news, when it's so common that it's no longer news -- car crashes, domestic violence -- that you should start worrying." (Bruce Schneier)


The ranking looks like it matches the frequency of occurrence pretty closely. So it's not surprising news outlets report on deaths that happen in uncommon ways even if a much larger number of people just died from a more common cause of death.


Deaths per mile is the metric used by many journalists. 1 death in your neighbourhood matters more than around 10 deaths 100 miles away. I don't think the relationship is exactly linear.


I mean, I guess this is not too surprising. There is that well-referenced Schneier article about how we react most to risks that are unfamiliar and rare (overestimating and valuing them), while believing as low risk those things which are mundane and common but much more likely to kill us day to day.

General hunger is familiar to everyone, even though dying of it now should be immoral to allow to happen. But being killed by a volcano is new and scary.

Hence the data they observe.


You could say the same about bias on contentious issues: "tribalism is an evolutionary trait, so such-and-such a news outlet's tendentious coverage isn't surprising".

Or about poor software design: "Concrete thinking is natural, so it's not surprising the engineers didn't think through possible surprising codepaths".

Journalism aspires to be, at its best, a profession whose associated skills, standards, and ethics exist precisely to countermand the kinds of 'unsurprising' traits you mention. As with reducing bias, application of rational news values is never going to be perfect. But like other skills, it can be improved.


Does this really describe the world? Yes, people are more viscerally frightened by rare risks, but that is because there is no strategy to manage them.

But we deal with every day risks pragmatically all the time (look both ways before you cross the road!). Enormous resources are put into solving/managing these risks (airbags, speed cameras, police, regulations and so on).

Of course shark attacks are more frightening than drowning. Drowning is the thing I'm actively preventing, I have a good understanding of how it might happen and how I will avoid it. The shark is scary because of its unavoidable and arbitrary nature!


That’s why people move to the suburbs and exurbs to avoid urban violence but end up with higher non natural death rates due to the greater than offsetting increase in auto deaths.


Check out The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, that paradox of attention is explored in-depth


It's not a question of numbers, but relevancy. I would say that a disaster in Central Europe and North America will always get to the news, even if it didn't cause a large number of deaths. If it happens anywhere else in the World, it takes a lot more to be newsworthy.

I don't agree with this binary view of the world, but that's how it is. As a European.


What do you mean when you use the word "relevancy"?


Probably proximity to home country mixed with the number of victims that are of proximal origin to ones own country/region.


Yes, relevancy as proximity to our country/region. I think I would first hear about a disaster that killed one single person from Portugal (as a Portuguese myself) anywhere in a world than one that killed fifty from any other nationality (outside of Europe and North America).

That would be different for people around the world according to their country and region.


It's about relatability, these stats just show how is population of these areas relatable to Americans. Not surprisingly rich Europeans are the most relatable, followed by poor S and C America, but still mostly same race and cultural background and then there is big nothing with vast cultural gap, different race etc. with Asia and Africa. I just don't understand Pacific, especially if it includes AU/NZ they should be just next to Europe, but maybe nothing really happening in AU/NZ besides ocasional earthquake and the news are overshadowed by less interesting unknown countries.


It doesn't even take one death from a volcano, apparently: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hawaii-volcano/hawaii-rep...


its not about the number of deaths, its the nationality of deaths that most news stations use as a barometer of reporting. The British press gave coverage of the 2004 Tsunami but that coverage increased as a by-product of the news channels discovering British nationals being in the affected areas. Then it suddenly became relevant. Otherwise its "just" another Syria/Yemen/Darfur/Burma.


IIRC in The Tin Men by Michael Frayn (1965) the computer used the number dead divided by the distance away to determine newsworthiness. Using some of the observations here I am sure we could improve on that.

It is gut wrenchingly sad that every death is not treated equaly ... though much in the same way, every life.


With regard to famine: the word "news" means "new things". It is literally the plural of "new". Famines are typically long-term events that have built up over time. Famine in (parts of) Africa? Old story. Famine in New York? New, and therefore "news".


It isn't the number of deaths, rather, it is the imminance of the predicament. The desperation caused by the situation. Single astronaut dies during space walk, big news. Epidemic, famine, these are slow processes that don't immediately invoke the fear reflex or curiosity as much.


Yeah, I remember reading about this in PSYC 101. The idea is that scale of tragedy is proportional to people’s perception of how “avoidable” it was.


Depends on the circumstances. One person dying on a commercial airliner recently became very newsworthy.


Context?


i believe they're referencing the southwest airlines flight in which an engine had an explosive failure and the shrapnel from that explosion went through the plane's main compartment windows, killing one passenger and maybe injuring a few more, i cant quite remember


What probably gathered the most attention was that the woman by the window was being sucked out but other passengers helped her by pulling her. I don't know if it was she who died. It wasn't mentioned in the article.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16860902

EDIT: This makes me think that part of what makes news newsworthy is describing something in a way that provokes the readers to put themselves in the story. In this case it's terrifying to consider being in the shoes of that woman. Also, per GuB-42's comment, I think on average people fear nuclear fallout more than an earthquake or a tsunami, considering that most of us have experience with none of those scenarios.



What’s important with news headlines is if it makes it feel like it could have been you.


It depends. US/European or developing world deaths?

Also, if it concerns developing world deaths, regardless of their number, are they in an area where US/Europeans have strategic interests, and can they exploit them to further them?


is more of a black / white thing sadly. Well white / other really. Probably a 1 to 100 ratio. If not more. 10 white deaths is more news worthy than a 1000 non-whites.


It'll be interesting to see man made disasters like a shooting or a terror attack.

How many people die in the Middle East from a terrorist before it makes news? Same goes for a shooting in USA.

How many get shot before it makes national headlines.


I could totally be wrong about this, but my impression is part of the reason terrorist attacks in the Middle East are less visible in American media is they don't fit the narrative of the rest of the news. Classically there are supposed to be two native groups in the Middle East: Terrorists with a political agenda and unworldly innocents who just want to raise their olives and apricots. The terrorists are supposed to be rising up against the worldly and technologically advanced West, so it doesn't make sense for them to be blowing up the cafe on the other side of town.


I'd rather say that it's about the relevance of the conflict to local readers. Middle Eastern terrorists harming some westerners (no matter if it happens in the west or to some tourists there) matter because it's part of an "their tribe vs our tribe" conflict; Middle Eastern terrorists harming a lot of locals does not matter as much to the local reader because it doesn't involve "our tribe" at all, it's just their own internal affair or civil war or even genocide.

News is not about reporting what happens, it's about reporting what's relevant - the events that can or will influence us in some way, so whether something is newsworthy depends on the audience. A limited conflict that affects the gas price is more relevant to local readers than a deadly conflict with little international influence.


Now, this might already seem dramatic, and then you start thinking about the tragedies that are not even brought to justice, like many abuse cases, rapes, or not ever solved, like people kidnapped for human trafficking, disappearances and unsolved murders, etc. It's not just national headlines. Many times it's our own communities, our own family. Maybe it's not deaths, maybe it's just tragedies. Maybe they are not disasters, maybe they are crimes, mental disorders, etc. (not trying to disagree with your comment, just sharing some thoughts)


One if your name is Tesla.


Elon couldn't keep it together through an earnings call, of course the media is going to go after him if only just for the reaction


Also one if you were in a school when it happened and cause of death was a bullet.


Interesting question. It'd be interesting to train a regression model to answer this question and help the media decide what to show or not depending on the predicted impact.


Tesla made a broken ankle newsworthy. So there is one data point.


Tesla also has a CEO that the media knows will react. Musk is the elementary school child who keeps crying when the bully comes around. What makes Tesla newsworthy is the guaranteed reaction. Elon can't keep it together for an earnings call so of course they are going to keep poking him


I'm with Elon on that one, but to be fair he defended the autopilot mistake by saying how safe the physical structure of the car is.

But I agree, better to release something that isn't perfect but saves lives. (we hope)


Totally depends on the prevailing sociopolitical narrative.


Only 1 needed if it’s in a Tesla.


1 if it's from a shark


How valid are the statistics, or rather the conclusions, for some of the (maybe unspoken) claims on some charts? Take the last one, "How many deaths does it take for a disaster in different continents to receive newscoverage?". This suggests that disasters in Europe get reported on much sooner than those in Asia in Africe; which I believe, I'm just wondering to what extent we can conclude that from this data. But it also (maybe only in my perception?) seems to make a moral judgement on that - that that is unfair, biased, discrimination, or just overall morally objectionable. Many comments in this thread seem to focus on that point, or just take it as a given.

The op says for this specific chart 'Note: This data is controlled for several factors, including the number killed and affected, country, year, month, and type of disaster.'. There are no famines in Europe (ok maybe depending on definitions and time period, there were some in the 60's and 70's in former communist countries?), which make the largest number of casualties by far. So how is it 'controlled for' by disaster type? When you look at 'data' for that chart, it doesn't even mention 'disaster type' under 'controlled for'! So what is it?

Furthermore, this chart suggests that every disaster in Europe with at least 1 casualty is reported on. That seems, let's say, rather unlikely. So is this data normalized with Europe as the base? (I'll admit that I only skimmed the actual paper). But that would be weird - what is the point of this graph? What could it show, and what does it show?

Look I'm not saying these people (i.e., the authors of the original paper) deliberately misrepresented anything, or that they set out to prove a point. It just looks more like a 'hey we have a cool idea for what we can do with data, let's make regression models, it'll be fun (and probably at least somewhat informative to others as well)' than some fundamental inquiry into the morality of news reporting. And that's fine - much (dare I say most) published papers have 'only' that level of depth; I've done it myself. But my problem is the big jump from numerical relations between some 'data' and broader conclusions (not by the authors, usually, but by people reporting on it, like the OP).

In this case, the numbers support the intuitions most people would have. I'm not even doubting the results, or the overall trend or bias. What I'm wondering is to what extent we can claim that this sort of analysis actually 'proves' those intuitions. Are so-so analyses, and hand-wavy generalizations made from them, better than having none at all? I used to think 'math is factual and any data that is not completely bogus is better than none at all', but nowadays, I'm not so sure any more.




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