Polar bear press.

OK OK, I couldn’t let it pass without throwing my tenpenneth into the ring. Actually I’m not going to talk about the recent polar bear attack itself (some interesting dialogue to be found on colleague Andy Rouse’s Facebook page here) but rather the inevitable press coverage.

The death of any young person yet to experience the myriad opportunities that life offers is always sad and an impossible ordeal for family and friends. But it’s the press coverage of how this young man died that I find both bizarre and distasteful. Had the lad been knocked over by a car or stung by a wasp or had a fatal asthma attack, or any one of hundreds of less ‘dramatic’ ends, he would simply have become an anonymous statistic to the outside world; the press wouldn’t care and neither would we – because we simply wouldn’t know about it.

This story has everything that the vulturine press live for. It’s a heady cocktail of human endeavour, heroism and ultimately an untimely death. But the cherry on the cake is fear – not any old fear but the most powerful, deep-seated, primeval fear of all. The ingredients are the stuff of journalistic dreams.

But let’s put aside the predictability of sensationalising a predator attack, the salivating over the most lurid details. The objective is to sell papers/airtime. And the best way to do that is to goad an audience into the irrationality, the ill-informed anecdotal outpourings, which pitch people against each other – providing the fuel for a fire that once lit, will burn of its own accord for days. Job done.

I’ve not yet read a report which gives the reader any ecological background to the polar bear. I’ve not yet read a suggestion as to why this bear might have attacked the campers, or contextualised the danger posed by polar bears at large. Nothing about the shrinking ice cap which ironically, I’m guessing the expedition had as part of its study. Here was an opportunity to use this tragic event to educate an audience and perhaps alert it to the challenges faced by the polar bear, its arctic habitat and ultimately, how this will affect us all. But then we wouldn’t want responsible, objective and informative stories to get in the way of good old-fashioned scaremongering and a verbal punch up.

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9 thoughts on “Polar bear press.

  1. Unfortunately, all the fuss around that kind of “journalism” is becoming more and more widespread. It looks that everything is subject or matter of article and moreover when something different from the usual comes up… WOW let’s dig some more. Yet, without a suitable adequacy to the subject. Is it big, is it painful… let’s go! The story certainly will sell!
    Well, as you know I have been “around” the profession for some years and in this particular kind of situations it is a job that, in my humble opinion, has no turning back.
    Very well pointed out, Pete.

  2. Nicely put Pete, sensationalism sells papers and all the ingredients were there, shame they missed the chance to get the ecological point across to the masses of readers across the world, its funny reading Andy’s blog how the story changes from person to person about the unfolding events and I guess only the people that were there can tell the true story, I know there was loss of life which is very sad bud it will be a real shame if the public don’t realise the the true story of whats happening in the arctic regarding habitat loss/melting ice and the obvious effect its having on its inhabitants!

  3. I suppose that the story is “newsworthy” simply because of its rarity. Sadly you’re right that the abiding memory will be “dangerous and wild polar bear kills innocent youth”.
    I suppose it was ever thus with gossip, rumour and the grapevine always being accorded greater credibility than facts.

  4. While my heart bleeds for the parents who have lost a child, I had been putting my efforts into explaining to people that the bear would have had very good reasons for its actions, even if humans couldn’t come to terms with them, while waiting for some real information to be published. (I’ve been doing a lot of swotting-up on bears and being a safe tourist, for the imminent Svalbard trip!)
    This morning, I finally found a story that mentioned the bear’s condition, relegating it to a last short sentence: apparently, the bear had only a thin fat layer and an empty stomach. Maybe people could relate to that fact, if it got as much publicity as the physical account of the injuries to the survivors, and accept that some places are very dangerous and bad stuff happens.
    Now I can’t find the source……..Guardian/Independent?

  5. There’s no getting away from the fact that the loss of life is a tragic event and i don’t think anybody would argue that point. However, when will people cotton on to the fact that the world is not a cotton wool wrapped place and that there are dangers out there? Accidents do happen and we all need to take responsibility for our actions. There seems to be an attitude of “because I can get to go somewhere, then it must be OK to do so.” We are on the bears patch and have to accept that this carrys an element of risk.
    There was a Norwegian chap on the radio yesterday who stated that bear attacks are not entirely uncommon and that they expect to see approximately three such events a year. this in itself should say something!

  6. How can it be that on the one hand there are intelligent, rational and reasoned individuals like you guys, and then from the same species….

    Phil’s point about a cotton wool environment is very pertinent, as is Annie’s about accepting that we are not infallible and that bad stuff does happen. I will stick my neck out here and guess that if you compared the Norwegian press coverage of this incident with our own, there would be a marked difference. Interesting.

    The media run our society and I just get so frustrated that such power is not wielded more productively. Instead it feeds on nurturing societal division. Right, need to do some work, soapbox back in the cupboard!

    Please encourage anyone else to contribute – these discussions do get picked up.

  7. Rapacious heartless beasts sneak around amongst general public, safety precautions prove useless, and many lives are damaged. Victims shocked that they were hacked into by them.

    No, not polar bears, but tabloid journalists.

    Watch your backs everyone. The shifting media climate has changed their behaviour significantly. But some aspects of their feeding habits will, sadly, never change.

  8. Just a thought……………….can we ship a few boat loads of these rampaging idiots on our streets to Svalbard? Might do both the bears and the rest of us a favour…………..OOPS, I said that out loud, didn’t I!!!!!

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