In
Crikey yesterday Stephen Feneley asked this question: “Can anyone
explain why the media is ignoring, or at least paying very little
attention, to a survival story that is as extraordinary as
Beaconsfield?” It was probably rhetorical but deserves an answer.

The
racist undercurrent is pretty obvious: three black blokes from the
Torres Strait don’t attract the same attention as two white blokes from
Tasmania. But that’s only a small part of the picture. Other more
important reasons flow from the media’s obsession with crisis, drama
and emotion-packed stories like Beaconsfield. There are three media
strategies that apply in these situations:

1 The blanket.
Ever since the death of Princess Diana the media has created a new form
of coverage – the “blanket”. Emotional events, like the death of a
popular princess, or the rescue of an “entombed” (a favourite media
word this week) survivor, attract the genuinely empathetic and the
curious voyeur. Both add to the aggregate of “eyeballs” hence the
egregious presence of Eddie in Beaconsfield all week. To make the most
of these events the media has to throw a blanket over them and promote
constant repetitive coverage.

2 One in all in, or else.
Once one media outlet decides to throw the “blanket” over an event,
everyone else has to scramble and catch up. Thus the pack descends on
the scene and the competitive frontline reporters are forced to become
more pushy and aggressive in search of an angle, a grab, a photo or a
position in the media scrum that forms 24/7 around the focal point. In
other words, everyone has to be “under the blanket”.

3 Owning the story.
A variation of the “blanket” and “one in all in” strategies, “owning
the story” means sending the network’s highest profile reporters,
anchors and on-air “stars” into the centre of the story. This creates
an impression that the network is taking the story seriously and that
its high profile talent really cares about the ordinary folk caught up
in a drama.

An important tactical development of this approach
is the “look at me” sideshow. The anchor becomes an integral part of
the story in some way: Naomi’s “princess” performance; Kochie’s bloke’s
bloke bonding with the trapped miners and the unfortunate Richard
Carleton’s on-air death.

When news broke that Todd and Brant
were alive, the media had no choice but to enact the “disaster/rescue”
game plan. On the other hand, the three Torres Strait castaways (John,
John Jr and Tom) were nowhere near a convenient land base where the
Winnebagos and the satellite dishes could be parked. Secondly, their
rescue was not as dramati