So, I’m not going to pretend I’m objective about this. Nashville has been my home for nearly 10 years; I have lots of friends and family here. I can’t take the long view. But my city has been in crisis for more than 48 hours, and it’s hard to believe that the national media has just started to pick up the story.
For all y’all outside of Tennessee, here are the basics: On Saturday, the state was pummeled with about 6 inches of rain. Sunday, 7 more fell. Without a reprieve in between, several rivers in the area flooded. Late Sunday afternoon, surrounding suburbs began evacuating hundreds of residents by boat. By night, officials began to worry the river would flood downtown Nashville. The massive Opryland hotel evacuated all 1,500 of its guests. At the moment, at least 8 people in metro Nashville have died, 20+ total in TN and surrounding states, and several of our landmarks are badly damaged if not underwater. The Cumberland River has yet to crest, so the worst may not be over.
So, at the risk of being myopic, it was frustrating last night, as I was watching people being evacuated by boats on my local news, to see us barely make a blip on the national radar. I was even more astonished to wake up to local reports of both Opryland and downtown flooding substantially — and some see-it-to-believe-it photos — and still find the national press mostly silent. At about noon today, CNN bumped it from a below-the-fold story with a vague “Southeast Storms Kill 5” headline to the main bar, though the coverage still seemed strangely subdued. (The lead of the story seemed to focus on the fact that Atlanta had escaped unscathed.) It was after 5 p.m. today before we made the New York Times’ website. Am I missing something? Are we not a major U.S. city? Is the scope of the flooding alone not newsworthy enough for the weather-loving media?
I definitely got some insight today into why national newspapers are struggling. With staffs slashed to the bone, they clearly can’t compete with local and social media on expediency (more on that later this week), but it kind of feels like they’re not even trying. CNN is still relying mostly on iReporters, though its headquarters are just a few hours away. In the time since I’ve been writing this post, the Times has bumped the story below the fold in favor of coverage of the U.Va. murder. It’s below the fold at Washingtonpost.com as well. Is the death of mainstream national media a self-fulfilling prophecy? It sure looks that way from here. But it’s hard to see through ALL THE WATER.