Media Coverage Analysis

Introduction:

Journalism, journalists and the media act as the informational bridge between the society, its people and the organization or the government. Over the years priorities have changed and ‘exposing’ anyone or highlighting the ‘corruption’ is considered as successful journalism. Attracting or increase in readership is a credit; increased advertising speaks volumes of its success. Today it is well known that media hypes, media portrays, media distorts, media suppresses, media sensationalizes, and media amplifies. Media is known to distort the truth. The public is aware of this nevertheless gets carried away even if it is for a short while.

The moment individual perceptions to a given situation or event are affected the media has succeeded! All it needs is a small grain to blow it out of proportion. It has to meet circulation and advertising targets; it has to keep ahead of competition.

Media coverage: positive or negative

Journalists need to remember their role in nation-building and not merely increasing readership by creating hype as these headlines project: “The world holds its breath for the shuttle landing…” or “SHUTTLE DAMAGED! NASA IN CRISIS! END OF HUMAN SPACEFLIGHT…” bear testimony to how media can sensationalize any issue (cited by Hans L.D.G, 2005). Discovery was bound to get more media coverage keeping in mind the Columbia disaster in the last fifteen minutes. Media cannot use this as an opportunity to create a false picture to instigate and mislead the society. A negative coverage arouses the public concern immediately. As Hans commented media can spread the false picture of reality faster than the speed at which Discovery was flying and this too minutes before it landed!!

Messages Conveyed:

‘Great anticipation’ fills NASA as shuttle launch nears…’ the shuttle’s external heat shield is too fragile… a lightning bolt could wreak havoc… storm clouds could block the view of tracking cameras….(Mark Carreau, Houston Chronicle 2005), news reports like this lent a negative image and questioned the very mission of NASA! It instigated the society and its people to reaffirm the futility in President Bush’s remark when Columbia disappeared in 2003 – ‘Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on…’ (Extract from President Addresses Nation on Space Shuttle Columbia Tragedy, 2003).  People wondered once again what benefit is achieved from NASA apart from expenditure in billions of money (tax payers money at that!!), time, and human lives? True, media has the responsibility to report the news objectively to the people but not to distort the reality. While NASA is clear about its objectives and mission, what have they really achieved in the forty-seven years of its existence? This perhaps is what the media wants to make the people conscious of but still they cannot mislead the society.

NASA handles media coverage efficiently:

With the launch of Discovery NASA gave coverage rights to Yahoo and AOL for the first time to carry the launch online. ‘Both had sound coverage with comments from their own announcers as well as feeds directly from NASA discussing various points in the countdown procedures’ reports John Stith (Cited in Webpronews 2005). NASA officials knew that their responsibility had increased and which necessitated image rebuilding since this was the first space shuttle after the Columbia disaster. NASA administrator Mike Griffin handled the media at all times. After the successful landing of Discovery he is known to have said, ‘the first step back in our return-to-flight sequence’ (Phil Long, The Miami Herald, 2005). He handled the media very efficiently stressing that the crew had performed fantastically and attained outstanding success. He was also cautious when asked at the Press Conference as to when NASA would be launched again; he refused to speculate. While Jeffrey F. Bell (Scuttle the Shuttle Now, 2005) projected a very grim picture of the future of manned space shuttles and created hype about foam fragments Griffin maintained that NASA engineers could now use the flight data to figure out how to fix the problems that occurred during the mission. The responsibility of Griffin increases as media portrays risks and it becomes incumbent upon him to explain how NASA handles the situation.

Media coverage during Columbia and Discovery:

NASA officials never shirked away from their responsibility to keep the nation informed of the events and anticipations. They conveyed to the nation the change in their culture since Columbia and this was adequately highlighted through the media. Earlier until they found something unsafe they presumed all was ok but now they want it proved that all is safe, as reported by Andrew Chaklin, 2005.

It is the responsibility of the key media person in any organization to maintain the company secrets while at the same time make the public aware of what’s happening. For example during the STS-107 ACCIDENT RESPONSE BRIEFING in February 2003 (Kyle Herring and Ron Dittemore 2003) NASA was subjected to heavy criticism even though the launch delay was taken quite coolly. While NASA officials pointed out that when engineers work together there may be disagreements between them but it is a natural healthy tension, which only leads to more probing and reaching a final conclusion to which all agree but this was termed by media as ‘reservation’ which can be misleading. Besides, it is also important to remember that all information cannot be made public because it can jeopardize the probe into the disaster while suppressing information is not the intention.

It was this disaster which attracted media attention when the launch of Discovery was delayed, then again an extra day in the space and finally the change of the landing station. Media was always looking to detect and probe snags that could be the reason but NASA maintained and kept the nation informed of the reasons at each stage. Lot of speeches, audio-video files and images are available to anyone interested at the NASA website. One can even sign up for the NASA news releases.

When reporters take up reporting on issues like NASA it is assumed that they have a fair knowledge on the subject. It is also the responsibility of the media to ask probing questions when they feel something is amiss. But this calls for expertise in that particular field. If media were to question NASA it has to be someone well versed technically and not probe on issues like what is broke and who is to blame. Media finds more faults than determining what has been achieved. According to Keith Cowing, Editor, NASA Watch, NASA’s somewhat isolationist behavior, high technical content, and peculiar jargon often erect a cultural barrier which reporters are forced to scale – or breach. And in an effort to meet the deadlines the reporters often misinterpret or incorrectly report the NASA employees. Well, probing questions from the media does help to keep any organization on its toes because nobody is interested in negative publicity.

What NASA could have handled better:

Questions have been raised about the mission of NASA itself, whether the pursuit of science and knowledge about space is worth the risk of human loss. While too much technical details cannot be made public this is an area where the general public needs to be educated or updated. What ultimately does NASA hope to achieve and at what cost? What are the achievements so far? Is it only to fulfill the President George W. Bush’s space vision of sending humans back to the moon? To sustain the space vision there is a feeling among the Americans that they need to feel a part of the national space program, as reported by Tariq Malik (NASA’s Image Needs a Makeover). NASA needs to enlighten the people of the life in space. It does not need to sell itself but in the interest of the people it needs to educate them. The public needs to know more about the astronauts and have more exposure to them. If NASA could handle this angle efficiently too, then everyone would feel a part of the program and perhaps better understand the risks attached to the mission itself. Perhaps it would then call for lesser criticism because it is lack of information that incites the public. What percentage of people knows or understands the technical details? The public needs to be inspired and this is essential even to better fulfill its own mission.

Works Cited:

Andrew Chaklin 2005, Lesson’s from Discovery’s flight, URL:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4792982, accessed 21st Sept 2005.

Hans L D G 2005, Media’s Hype distorts NASA’s Reality,

URL:http://www.spacedaily.com/news/oped-05zt.html, accessed 20th Sept 2005.

Jeffrey F. Bell, Scuttle the Shuttle Now, 2005,

URL:http://www.spacedaily.com/news/oped-05zq.html, accessed 21st Sept 2005.

John Stith 2005, Search For Discovery: Online Coverage Of Shuttle Launch,

URL:http://www.webpronews.com/insidesearch/insidesearch/wpn-56-20050726SearchForDiscoveryOnlineCoverageOfShuttleLaunch.html, accessed 21st Sept 2005.

Keith Cowing 1998, “NASA at 40: What kind of space program does America need for the 21st

Century?” URL:http://www.nasawatch.com/congress/10.01.98.cowing.html, accessed 21st Sept 2005.

Kyle Herring and Ron Dittemore 2003, STS-107 ACCIDENT RESPONSE BRIEFING,

URL:http://www.ksc.nasa.gov/columbia/jsc0205brief.htm, accessed 22nd Sept 2005

Mark Carreau 2005, ‘Great anticipation’ fills NASA as shuttle launch nears,

URL:http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/space/sts114/pre/3260482 accessed 20th Sept 2005

Phil Long 2005, Discovery lands safely; work on future missions begins,

URL:http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/nation/12337892.htm, accessed 21st Sept 2005.

President George Bush 2003, President Addresses Nation on Space Shuttle Columbia Tragedy,

URL: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/02/20030201-2.html, accessed 21st Sept 2005

Tariq Malik 2004, NASA’s Image Needs a

Makeover,URL:http://www.space.com/news/commission_image_040325.html, accessed 22nd Sept 2005.

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