Covering wildfires

Finding analysis of fire reportage is a hard task. There is not much out there. It is much easier, however, when one focuses on wildfires. 

Wildfires are almost a different beast entirely than typical residential fires. The size and scope of the damage is much greater, as is the likelihood for media coverage. Forest fires regularly get air time on national news coverage. Also, the factors in forest fires are different from residential fires. While Smokey the Bear might have you thinking that it all comes down to how many cigarette butts are disposed of improperly, the weather plays a huge role in the frequency of wildfires. And while preventative efforts are certainly helpful in both types of fires, they seem to play a larger role in house fires. You can’t put a smoke detector on every redwood. 

Because wildfires tend to be treated as bigger stories, there is more analysis of the way in which they are covered. Throughout this analysis, there is a resounding theme: Climate change plays a huge role in the rate of forest fires, and it is regularly ignored as a factor by the media. In a study conducted by Media Matters for America, “only 3% of wildfire coverage mentioned long-term climate change or global warming.” This in spite of extensive evidence that wildfires are linked to the change in environment: “Wildfires are a naturally occurring phenomenon closely tied to climate conditions, and as the world warms in response to rising amounts of greenhouse gases in the air, many studies show that wildfire frequency and severity will likely shift as well,” according to Climate Central. also found that U.S. media were reticent to make this connection.

This seems like an easy problem to fix, but it is actually disheartening. If this simple problem cannot be addressed, then it seems that struggles in reporting on residential fires are far from being fixed. In fact, the fact that residential fires lag so far behind wildfires, which are treated as big stories with readily available media analysis echoes this. Wildfires might occur on a larger scale, but clearly residential fire coverage is lacking in terms of the big picture stuff. Maybe once those types of stories become more commonplace, media criticism for residential fire coverage will appear and eventually, somewhere down the line, positive changes will be made.



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