01 May 2010

No Surprises

John Sides writes for Salon about the drop in interest for Haiti. Not a surprise that it is no longer a significantly discussed issue.  I warned a friend who asked about how she could engage her middle school students in the issue that it would be easy to get them motivated for the first few weeks, but a long term project would be much harder because they will stop caring.  So it appears that we have done as a public:

"American public attention rarely remains sharply focused on any one domestic issue for very long -- even if it involves a continuing problem of crucial importance to society." So wrote the economist Anthony Downs in 1972. He described the "issue-attention cycle": "Each of these problems suddenly leaps into prominence, remains there for a short time and then -- though still largely unresolved -- gradually fades from the center of public attention."

Three months after the earthquake in Haiti, it is clear that it's not only domestic problems that  receive this kind of attention. Indeed, a comparison of New York Times stories about three recent natural disasters -- Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, and the earthquake in Haiti -- shows that the issue-attention cycle characterizes news coverage of each.

The Issue-Attention Cycle for News Coverage of Natural Disasters

HT Chris Blattman