A seismic shift for the news

Has a new news perception “caused” the recent surge in earthquakes?

When it comes to postmodern news consumption, donâÄôt be surprised when you become surprised. We donâÄôt mean that contemporary economic pressures invite sensational news, though surely they do; nor do we mean to assess the merits of particular news topics. Rather, we offer the idea that news today appears louder to us and closer to us than in the past. Recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and now Turkey leave news consumers, if not sensing apocalypse, curious about the historic frequency of earthquakes. While far less deadly than the quake in Haiti, this third quake in Turkey offers a conspicuous pattern, prompting one Associated Press headline to assure us, âÄúNot more quakes, just more people in quake zones.âÄù Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh perceived the pattern, too, saying of Democratic health reform rhetoric, âÄúYou would think the insurance companies were causing the earthquakes.âÄù According to data compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey, in the last 25 years, the world has experienced an average of 140 earthquakes (scale 6.0 to 7.9) per year. We are on track to clock in at 111, though the Haitian death toll will likely make 2010 the deadliest earthquake year since 1976, when U.S. news outlets featured quirky headlines such as, âÄúChimps may help predict earthquakes.âÄù Bold headlines and frightening patterns are not a new social phenomenon, but if people perceive trend against the logic of arithmetic or the evidence of history, what, if anything, has changed? The Internet. The Pew Research Center released the report âÄúThe New news landscape: The Rise of the InternetâÄù last Monday, which found that âÄúin the digital era, news has become omnipresent.âÄù Perhaps we will look back at 2010 not as the year of disaster but as the year of the closer and louder awareness of it.