Thursday, October 01, 2009

Strange Coverage Decisions

You know what you really don't see on the evening news every day? A crowd of homeless people giving you the finger.

I initially assumed that I had completely just hallucinated this when I watched it on the CBC local news, yesterday evening, but no -- the modern magic of rewindable television let me confirm that this image actually made it across the airwaves to my screen. It also turns out that the CBC archived the entire show online, unedited, so you can watch the story for yourself from 14:43 to 15:40 here -- a fifty-seven-second spot about unreasonable WRHA quarantine policies for homeless shelters.

Now, I wouldn't exactly call the CBC's chosen cross-sample of homeless people "ethnically diverse" -- for a fun game you can play at home, try and spot the white guy! -- but I can recognize that the time constraints of television journalism meant that the cameraman really only had time to show up near the Main Street Project and just shoot whoever he could find. And I guess he couldn't find enough homeless (or homeless-looking) people right there to fill the half a minute or so of footage he needed, so he had to run the half a block over to the Booth Centre and get some video from there. (If you have a better explanation for why the Booth Centre appears in a one-minute story about the Main Street Project, I'd love to hear it. Aren't the two shelters run by completely separate groups? Does the CBC just bust out Booth Centre shots as stock footage whenever 'homeless' appears in a story?) I can understand those parts, or at least understand them well enough that I'm willing to roll with it.

But of all the establishing shots to work with, why did they specifically pick a clip of downtrodden-looking Aboriginals (and one lone black guy) sitting in a closed circle, drinking from a great big bottle of unidentifiable liquid, and flipping off the camera? You guys had however many hours to edit the story down to fifty-seven seconds, and you decided that you absolutely needed to have that as the lead-in?

I don't want to sound like I'm overthinking this, but I am, so that's how it's going to come out.

Was the shot just included for the bizarre humour of it? Did the editing team see this footage the cameraman brought back, think it was (admittedly) kind of funny, and decide that it would be a shame not to share it? Or was this opening snippet included so we wouldn't feel too bad for the homeless people after hearing the story? And, if that's the case, were they expecting us to react more like "look at this classless trash, they don't deserve our help" or more like "aww, look how plucky and scrappy these guys are, I bet they'll be okay"?

There was an equally brief CBC web article on the story, which went almost completely unnoticed even by the normally vociferous crowd of combative commenters that can usually be counted on to ruin everything on the god damned CBC web site. And the news of the WRHA mandatory guidelines never even got mentioned by any of the other media outlets in this city -- but in a way, I'm actually sort of relieved by that knowledge.

People have a demonstrable tendency to overreact and jump to conclusions when presented with a news item -- especially when it has to deal with public health -- and it's probably just as well that nobody really ran with this story, because a fair percentage of the audience could no doubt be counted on to decide that "swine flu" and "homeless people" are inextricably linked.

(I would worry that I'm unintentionally starting this snowball effect by bringing the news story up again, but pfft. Ain't nobody still reading this blog any more.)

And if the whole H1N1 thing should ever become an actual fatal epidemic and break out big time among the homeless, I'd call it a safe bet that the 'respectable' folk would follow them in dropping like flies pretty shortly afterwards. Do you think anybody in power would bother giving them medicine or anything? Ha! Tell me another one, why don't you. The current government plan is to vaccinate everybody over sixty-five, then vaccinate everybody who lives in long-term care or has a chronic illness, and then they're planning to just stop because they'll be completely out of the vaccine long before then. So all you prospective science-fiction writers, keep this particular scenario in mind; it would make a great setup for a story, if we all live long enough to read it.

I'm just a ray of sunshine, tonight, aren't I? Be sure to tune in for our next installment, when I completely change gears and talk about doughnuts instead. See you then, true believers!

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