COLUMN: Society needs to focus on its attention span
Thursday marked six months since an EF-4 tornado swept through Tuscaloosa, Ala., killing 49 and injuring 600.
Did you read about the milestone last week? Did you see more than a minute devoted to Tuscaloosa on the news?
I didn’t think so.
Our society tends to forget about disasters two weeks after they happen. We see pictures of the initial destruction, we talk about the lives lost, and we move on to Kim Kardashian’s wedding woes. We have a collectively short attention span for tragedy — unless, of course, it happens to us.
That’s a shame.
The Wesley, the United Methodist group at OU, took a mission trip to Tuscaloosa three weeks after the tornado. I was on that trip. My group saw the lots where houses used to stand. We picked up rotting, maggot-filled meat from abandoned houses. We talked to people whose homes were deemed uninhabitable, people who lived in a trailer park whose homes were barely standing. Despite everything, these people were optimistic.
I wonder if they’re still optimistic. I wouldn’t be.
Media drive donations to disaster areas. Stories, pictures and videos compel people worldwide to send donations to affected areas. Since April, coverage of the Tuscaloosa tornado has essentially dried up and donations have slowed substantially, according to The Crimson White, the University of Alabama’s student newspaper.
Certainly, other important events are being covered, such as relief efforts after a EF-5 tornado devastated Joplin, Mo. In further covering disasters, I do not suggest media organizations ignore their duty to report the news; I suggest they ignore their desires to make money by reporting on celebrity gossip.
Media organizations have an opportunity to raise awareness of real issues in the world. Despite this, famine, disaster, protests and discrimination often take a backseat to inane pop culture and endless analysis of Rick Perry’s latest gaffe.
What happened in Tuscaloosa, what happened in Joplin and what happens in disaster zones worldwide deserve media attention. More importantly, disaster zones deserve our attention.
We must pay attention to things like Forget Us Not Tuscaloosa, a Facebook group started by Tuscaloosa News reporter Chase Goodbread that aims to raise long-term volunteerism and donations. The group’s goal is to recruit one donor a day from June 1, 2011 to June 1, 2012.
Goodbread told The Crimson White he started the group because he knew short-term aid would be gone two to four months after the tornado. Goodbread said he wanted to ensure long-term aid would be widespread in Tuscaloosa.
Though OU does not have a group actively raising money for Tuscaloosa, an OU student started a group to raise money for tornado recovery in Joplin. Senior Danielle Barker, a Joplin native, started OU Loves Joplin, MO, after a friend of hers was killed in the tornado. OU Loves Joplin, MO, brought two pickup trucks full of donations and supplies to Joplin in May.
The group now raises money by setting up tables in the Oklahoma Memorial Union and at last weekend’s National Weather Festival. The group is also planning a trip to Joplin on Dec. 17 to provide Christmas for children affected by the tornado. Barker said in an email she also plans to ask local elementary schools to write letters to children in Joplin.
Society has a duty to support charitable endeavors such as Barker’s and Goodbread’s, particularly in the face of media undercoverage. We must remember places like Tuscaloosa and Joplin as they rebuild. One day, they may need to remember us as we recover.
Kate McPherson is a journalism sophomore.