The journalism rules on tragedy

EARLY in my career an old journalist – a crusty sub editor – took me aside and told me the facts of life.
He said: Say you had to choose what story to put on page one and you had one story about one Australian dying tragically and another of 5000 people dying in a flood in Bangla Desh . Which one is more important?

He explained it like this. In news terms, one Australian death is worth the death of four Britons, half a dozen yanks, 20 Frenchmen, 30 Germans, 100 Latin Americans and 200,000 Asians.

First lesson in news ethics. Or perhaps a lesson on the way the media works.

It’s why that tragic overnight event in Pakistan – a Taliban attack on a school that left 142 dead – mainly children – has received minor media coverage here.

Journalism at its best informs. But 99.9 per cent of what happens in the world doesn’t get a mention in the media.

We live in the age of over-information. That’s not the same as good information.


44 thoughts on “The journalism rules on tragedy

  1. I wouldn’t mind so much if Journalist were just reporting what they think people are interested in. I think media has an agenda now.


    How often does the Murdoch press report anything bad about Abbott and compare that to Gillard.


      • Anthony Albanese Parliament October 30 2012
        Unemployment – lower under Labor;
        Inflation – lower under Labor;
        Home loan mortgage rates – lower under Labor;
        Wages growth – higher under Labor;
        Household savings – higher under Labor;
        Taxes as a percentage of GDP – lower under Labor;
        Government spending – lower under Labor;
        Business investment – higher under Labor;
        Investment pipeline – through the roof under Labor, with the confidence in this economy;
        Infrastructure spending – higher under Labor;
        Industrial disputes – lower under Labor;
        Labour force participation – higher under Labor.

        And that was comparing the Labor government at the time to the Howard government.

        I’d like to know what criteria you’d use to judge Gillard as worse than Abbott ??

        (and yes Gillard was staggeringly inept, but so far she’s nothing compared to Abbott)


      • Well, there you go, if Anthony said that it must have been an accurate and balanced interpretation of the statistics……no vested interest in the source of that statement I’m sure.
        I guess the Australian voting public took a look at that statement and said: ” no way can we tolerate another term of this ‘Economic Utopia’ , life is just getting too boring!” 🙂


      • A surfer rides a wave, he doesn’t create it, that’s done by forces of nature. Economies are influenced by other economies and business activities around the world. You will find economic indicators are analysed over decades that transcend Governments. e.g.:

        ” In the past two decades, Australia has enjoyed a period of uninterrupted economic growth – an average of 3.3 percent in real GDP growth annually. Australia possesses a well-diversified economy boosted by the strength of its services and resources industries.” Economy Watch.

        There were a few governments over this period all of whom probably tried to claim sole credit for this trend, just like Albanese did – but that is the name of the game called politics.

        Just for fun, I cherry picked one so you can replace “under” with “despite”
        “Business confidence in Australia is now worse than it is in Italy. In fact Australian businesses are among the gloomiest in the world.” ABC The Drum – 12 December 2012.

        Now if your a liberal man this one can be used to say how wonderfully Joe is doing:
        “Spurred by robust business and consumer confidence, Australia’s economy is expected to grow even quicker in the next five years. 2011 to 2015 should see Australia’s GDP (PPP) grow by 4.81 to 5.09 percent annually. By the end of 2015, Australia’s GDP (PPP) is expected to be US$1.122 trillion.” Economy Watch. Cherry picking again.

        The point is that, provided statements aren’t too wild, you can pretty much find data and opinion to support what you want people to believe. Liberal or Labour the economy is being shaped my modern thinking and education.

        But that is all I really have to say on that. My interest in this Blog topic is Bryan’s experience in how we view Human tragedy relative to ourselves.


      • HI Michael,

        So what specifically did he get wrong ?

        I’d guess most of the Australian public has very little interest in what’s said in parliament.


      • Michael, are you saying that Govt’s have little influence on how a country is running?

        That the world moves around them and then they use it to their advantage and the media helps?


      • Off topic for me, but briefly:
        I’m saying that economic activity is largely influenced by global events and that no single Government gets to take ALL of the credit for the good fortune of the day. The role of Government is to facilitate economic growth and redistribute wealth throughout the community through services and social welfare to those that need it most. They act on advice from independent departments that monitor Global and National economic trends.
        I dare say that a few mining corporations would like to have tapped Mr Albanese on the shoulder that day and asked where there credit is for all of this – our Government didn’t single-handedly create the mining boom. Another point is that the Reserve Bank operates independently of Government, they set Monetary Policy for the purpose of promoting economic growth and stability. Most of the economic indicators of the day are the result of economic activity from years previous.
        My absolute last response on this part of the topic.


      • “A surfer rides a wave, he doesn’t create it, that’s done by forces of nature.”

        And yet Kelly Slater has still won more ASP titles than anybody else. Suggesting perhaps that the skill of the surfer is also important to the end result.

        Governments might not be in total control of the economy BUT they are still a huge influence.

        “our Government didn’t single-handedly create the mining boom. ”
        Certainly not but the tax benefits etc handed to the mining companies in Australia from the government may have helped spur the investment such that Australia benefited most from the mining boom.

        The reserve bank does set monetary policy in order to combat inflation and promote growth in the economy. But it does not do this in a vacuum. It will be greatly influenced by the fiscal policy of the government of the day.

        And you still weren’t able to point out exactly what Albo got wrong.


      • Hey Michael,

        Um that would be under Labor not Labour.

        You really should have taken your own advice and quit while you were behind.


      • Damn, habit of fighting the American Dictionaries embedded in our software – Thinking mans problem. 🙂



      Don’t get me wrong, they are both bad. My observations is that Abbott has not had the scrutiny he deserves.

      We have been spoilt with good award winning treasurers. Hockey is a below average treasurer, who may never deliver a surplus as he has promised, yet there is not much focus on his performance. There are no sensational headlines on his budget bumblings as there was with Swan.

      Do this experiment. Google “budget blowout” and see who is reporting it and the headlines. If it was Swan, the Murdoch press would be quite cynical in there approach.

      Here is one comparison.


    • Trust a Muslim to bring the red herring of conspiracies and political correctness into the discussion. Instead of joining the world in protesting that such an atrocity has occurred.

      The incident is a tragedy regardless of who committed it. Is the media not supposed to report incidents because it offends the sensibilities of some minority group or another?

      You are not doing any service to your religion when you refuse to condemn incidents like this, but dismiss them as part of a conspiracy by the west.

      Frankly we are getting fed up with the Muslim world providing ammunition to people like Phillip George who made comments on this website to the effect that we should bulldoze mosques, etc.


      • Yes we are reaping what we sowed. We moved away from the teachings of God and become a people who act on our desires and become materialistic. We let evil grow in our societies without trying to stop it. We did not urge each other to do good. We are now being punished for it. This was all foreseen 1400 years ago. It may well be that the Muslims in Australia will start to receive punishment from God as well.

        The People will soon summon one another to attack you as people when eating invite others to share their food.”
        Someone asked, “Will that be because of our small numbers at that time?”
        He replied, “No, you will be numerous at that time: but you will be froth and scum like that carried down by a torrent (of water), and Allah will take the fear of you from the breasts (hearts) of your enemy and cast al-wahn into your hearts.” Someone asked, “O Messenger of Allah, what is al-wahn?”
        He replied, “Love of the world and dislike of death.”
        [An authentic hadith recorded by Abu Dawud and Ahmad]

        We have become like froth on water. No substance. What do Muslims have to do to get Gods blessing back ?

        ,Truly, God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Quran 13:11)

        We need to move back to God and stop acting on our desires. Try to stop the evil we see around us and urge each other to do good.


      • Dom
        “We let evil grow in our societies without trying to stop it. We did not urge each other to do good.”

        “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” -Edmund Burke


  2. I’ve been hearing all day about those precious babies in Pakistan. I feel heartbroken and furious at the same time.

    I look at it this way. If someone I didn’t really know well were to die, I would want to know and I would say a little prayer. If one of my personal loved one’s were to die, it would be the end of a part of my world.

    Everybody in every country reports on their own first I’m sure.


    • All countries I have been in have FOX and CNN news channels. They receive local and international news. So western news and opinions gets fair coverage around the world.


      • The Fox News showing in these other countries would be in English not in their native language I’m presuming.


      • Yes Kathleen but a lot more people in other countries can speak a second language and it usually English. 🙂


      • Makes it hard for English speaking countries to keep up lol There’s only one of us. We could each learn one other language and listen to that news I suppose. I know Italian and Spanish but we tend to get the Spanish news from very loud and boisterous relatives over Skype lol


  3. Wasn’t there a study from the UK or thereabouts that showed the majority of what you read in a newspaper is a press-release from some organisation or other ?


  4. Bryan,
    At the danger of being seen as cruel hearted, son of b…, your editor was correct.

    Stephen Covey (author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) explains that we operate within two circles:
    – the inner one is the circle of influence.
    – the outer one is the circle of concern.

    In the circle of concern are all the things we worry about, but have no control over – Taliban killing children, tsunamis, world poverty, Middle East Peace, etc.

    In the circle of influence are all the things that we have control over and can change – our own behaviour, leading by example, etc.

    As part of your circle of influence you might be in a position to influence events and community so that the reasons why the Australian who died tragically are eliminated and save the second Australian. But maybe even this situation falls within the circle of concern.

    Your circle of influence is not powerful enough to save the people who die of flooding in Bangladesh. These are incidents you have no control over. Trying to solve them is not only a complete waste of time, but it diverts you from using your gifts and talents in areas more worth while, where you can help.

    The Bible explains this, in the parable of the sheep and the goats. Here we have people that spend their resources on casting demons, miracles, etc. A pastor involved in these sort of activities once told me that the danger inherent in such activities is personal glory instead of glory of God, because it involves the growth of popularity, control over crowds, praise from the crowd, etc. In the end he resigned, and moved to escape this danger.

    Meanwhile, the parable tells us is that the one single person near them (the brother) is neglected. Ministers often tell me that this is because it involves hard bloody work on a personal level, with fewer crowds, no personal glory or popularity increase, frustrations, etc. Sometimes not even a thank you. To some people the opinion of the crowd is more important than the single individual, so you don’t see many talented ministers involved in this work.

    But how does Christ see it? He identifies with the “least of these my brethren”. Not the greatest of my brethren, and certainly not the crowd.

    Another Biblical example is the woman who touched His garment. Remember that Jesus was jostled and touched by many within the crowd he was with, only one got His attention.


    • Sometimes you do have influence but the media do not report it.

      Example Drone destroying of houses and the killing of women and children in Pakistan and Yemen.

      These are sanctioned by the people we have elected to represent us.


      • Red Herring again Dom.
        So what you are saying is that because the Drones killed women and children in two separate incidents, the Taliban were justified in killing a bus load of kids in one incident?
        Have you not heard that two wrongs don’t make a right?


      • What he is saying is that the initial incident didn’t get reported, we’re not getting the whole story. I didn’t read anything that said “therefore”, sounds like presumption on your part Davinci.

        “At the danger of being seen as cruel hearted, son of b…,”
        Certainly hasn’t stopped you before Davinci!


      • He has a similar trait to someone else that used to post here. 🙂 He reads what he wants to reply to not what was written.


      • Bryan,
        Dom didn’t have to say it. He only had to throw red herrings in the way, such as conspiracy theories, instead of protesting at the fact that children were killed by his own co-religionists.


      • How can you be involved in a think tank when you have such an inability to actually listen to what other people are saying.


      • There’s only one ‘tank’ that kind of thinking comes from – on the farm we needed ours pumped out regularly.


  5. I remember as a teenager trekking to Switzerland and entering a bank with my Australian traveller’s cheques. Well the Bank Teller had never even heard of Australia lol I doubt very much he’d be interested in Australian news then.


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