How does a plane carrying 239 passengers just disappear? It’s almost certainly at the bottom of an ocean, but where? Did it crash? Or was there foul play? A hijacker? The pilots? Why did it take so long to discover that the communications link was yanked and the plane diverted off its route? Why has the search effort been so haphazard? Why are the messages from officials so mixed? How did the Malaysian government cock this up so badly?

The story has gripped the world like few before it, as much for the mystery as the details. As leading American media critic Howard Kurtz noted over the weekend, sparking a big debate stateside: “It’s too much with too few facts.”

He was referring mainly to CNN, which has managed to cut through the partisan noise on Fox News and MSNBC to post record ratings for its all-plane-all-the-time coverage. Kurtz isn’t the only one questioning whether the wall-to-wall coverage is overcooked.

The interest in Australia is just as strong; it’s led bulletins and been splashed across the papers since news broke. Crikey‘s blog Plane Talking, written by veteran aviation reporter and industry guru Ben Sandilands, is furiously documenting the case and racking up unprecedented traffic. We’ve featured Sandilands in Crikey Insider often, but our own newsroom has been somewhat divided on how much coverage the issue deserves.

Responding to Kurtz, Jack Shafer of Reuters writes:

“For those of us who remain enthralled by it, who have used the story as an entry point into Malaysian politics or flight safety or satellite surveillance, you have nothing to apologize for. Readers have been giving themselves over to grand, mysterious stories that don’t directly affect them for five centuries. The news menu remains immense and varied. If you don’t like the MH370 story, do us a favor and pick something else.”

So don’t be embarrassed if you’re obsessed with every twist and turn; many of us are. Tune out if you want. But be honest with us: does it deserve more coverage or less?

Peter Fray

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