Sunday, March 13, 2011

They're Just Words, Right?

Like most everyone on the planet who has access to electronic media, I've been following the coverage of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The troubles at the nuclear power plants in particular have caught my attention. Yesterday morning, prior to tackling a mountain of homework, I clicked on CNN.com to find out what had happened overnight.

Imagine my horror when I read this subtopic header on the home page, right below a main caption of "Report: 9,500 missing in one town":
"Pump system caused nuclear blast"
Visions of mushroom clouds sprang immediately to my mind. I mean, there's only one thing that "nuclear blast" can mean, right?

I clicked through to the story, not at all sure I really wanted to know what happened. Here's the title of the article:
"Japanese official says pumping system caused nuclear plant blast"
Okay...not quite so horrified now. The article goes on to clarify further:
"An explosion at an earthquake-struck nuclear plant was not caused by damage to the nuclear reactor but by a pumping system that failed as crews tried to being the reactor's temperature down..."
Quite a bit of difference between that first teaser line and the actual situation, don't you think?

Other Internet sites did a little bit better at not throwing their readers into a panic. AOL's headline for the event:
"Nuclear Plant Explosion in Japan"
From Yahoo!:
"Explosion rocks Japan nuclear plant"
From MSNBC:
"Blast Rips Quake-Hit Japan Nuke Plant; Radiation Said to be Lower"
And from the New York Times:
"Radiation Leaks After Explosion at Quake-Damaged Nuclear Plant"
None of these headlines is nearly as alarming as the words "nuclear blast" in my opinion (although MSNBC certainly seems to be going for the hard-core abduction of readers' attention).

Journalists: Please think a little more critically before you post. Scaring your readers is not the best way to get their heart rates going first thing in the morning.

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