News Judgment: The Tennessee Floods

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Country Singer Kenny Chesney Evacuates : TwitPic Photo

On Saturday, I heard a little about the rain in Tennessee. See, it was supposed to pour in Athens, Georgia … but all we got was humidity. The storm, I was told, had “stalled” over Tennessee, where it was raining a lot. I was a lot more focused on track conditions at the Kentucky Derby.

I spent most of Sunday in transit from Athens to Savannah (by car) and from there to Atlanta to Seattle (by planes). In preparing for Monday’s digital journalism class, I poked around news sites looking for an audio-slideshow with images from the flood. I didn’t find one. I found a couple videos (one was simply helicopter footage with no voice over) and various still photos — but no galleries.

Monday morning, CNN had a caption-only “gallery” of, I think, five photos. It’s up to 13 as of this writing — the new seven consist of six iReport photos and one government shot. The Tennessean has 95 photos in just one gallery. Here’s another with 23 pix of landmarks.

Also on Monday, I tweeted four “how to help” links. I couldn’t figure out what the hashtag was (I used #nashvilleflood). It wasn’t a trending topic?

Google Timeline
Google News Timeline : Nashville Flood
Google Timeline
Google News Timeline : TimesSquare
Google Timeline
Google News Timeline : BP/Gulf Oil

It took a friend’s Facebook update after class on Wednesday to spur me to action.

Bridges are compromised, a levee leaked, a historic area washed away. The Grand Ole Opry House and the Opryland Hotel? Under 6 to 10 feet of water. Only one of the city’s two water-treatment plants is operating. The mayor of Nashville said on Wednesday that the repair/clean-up cost could be $1 billion.

This flood event had more than twice as much rain as the prior record. This flood came from 16-20+ inches of rain (plus flash floods); the prior record was less than 7 inches in a two-day period. And yet the Grand Ole Opry has figured out how to continue performances in other venues.

Tennessee’s very real personal, social and economic tragedy has been overshadowed by the threat of a bombing in NYC (the story is still on the front pages) and an oil slick making its way towards the Gulf Coast.

Or was it the victim of a tattered national press corps that can’t look beyond its collective navel? Perhaps Nashville is simply too “hickville” and “country”? (Yes, I’m thinking of that infamous tweet about Memphis.)

It’s not just the press. The White House website is featuring four stories and Tennessee ain’t one of them: Times Square (a poorly planned bombing attempt), the BP/Gulf Coast oil fiasco (where was the national press corps when it blew up?), Wall Street Reform (that’s a time-sensitive news story For Sure) and the weekly address. At least Obama signed the declaration of disaster sometime on Tuesday.

This was a 100-year or 500-year flood event. Dozens have died, here on our soil. Where are the “text to donate” campaigns? Where’s the clamor to help?

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By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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