Media milking typhoons for profit


Chen Ping-hung 陳炳宏



Tue, Sep 19, 2017 Taipei Times

For a while it looked like Typhoon Talim was going to hit Taiwan, leaving the public concerned about what damage it could do. In the end, it turned away. Some people were actually annoyed about this, as they were robbed of a typhoon day.

Some blamed the Central Weather Bureau for not getting its forecast right. However, one question that was not asked was why the media started reporting the trajectory of the typhoon when it was still several thousand kilometers away, getting the public all worked up for no reason.

Two or three decades ago, the bureau would not start forecasting the trajectory of a typhoon until it was 400km or 500km from the Bashi Channel to the south or the east coast.

At this point, it would remind crews on the seas or residents on the land what they could expect from the coming typhoon, giving people about two or three days to prepare.

Now the media start talking about a typhoon when it is still 4,000km or 5,000km away, typically a whole week, sometimes 10 days, before the typhoon hits, as if the whole point is to whip the public into a frenzy.

This premature, blanket coverage courtesy of the media puts pressure on the authorities to announce a typhoon day, creates concern among the public, obliges farmers to take precautions and sends people scurrying to shops to stock up on provisions.

The upshot is that the coverage puts the whole nation on edge, anticipating the worst.
None of this, of course, is the media’s intention.

What the media seek to achieve most is to orchestrate public trepidation about the coming typhoon and bring it to a crescendo, so that people will spend their time at work online checking and rechecking what the typhoon is doing, before rushing home to watch the weather forecast on TV.

The idea behind the media’s coverage of the typhoon is to maximize click rates and viewing figures, which means advertising revenue, which means more money for them.
Think about it. What other type of news can rile the public into such ecstasies of concern? Typhoon coverage is such a wonderful tool for grabbing people’s constant attention.

After the media discovered this little gem, typhoon stories became their new best friend, and also individual reporters’ most hated enemy.

Every time a typhoon looms, media bosses ask their reporters to seek the danger spots, because that is what makes a good story (read excellent click bait).

There is the television reporter, standing before the lens, microphone in hand, buffeted and drenched, swaying back and forth trying to play up the strength of the typhoon as much as possible.

The way typhoons are reported here in Taiwan has even made it onto CNN, as a light entertainment piece.

So, next time a typhoon is brewing somewhere off in the ocean, do not just sit there wondering whether you will get a day off and complain when you do not.

Perhaps you could turn your mind instead to how the media led you to the conclusion that it might, and think about how we should be approaching the information we are given and how the media should be reporting typhoons.

Chen Ping-hung is a professor at National Taiwan Normal University’s Graduate Institute of Mass Communication.