Hold the front page?

More neat articles on the economics of the media keep appearing. This one is from the May 2007 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics:

News Droughts, News Floods, and U.S. Disaster Relief
Thomas Eisensee & David Strömberg
This paper studies the influence of mass media on U.S. government response to approximately 5,000 natural disasters occurring between 1968 and 2002. These disasters took nearly 63,000 lives and affected 125 million people per year. We show that U.S. relief depends on whether the disaster occurs at the same time as other newsworthy events, such as the Olympic Games, which are obviously unrelated to need. We argue that the only plausible explanation of this is that relief decisions are driven by news coverage of disasters and that the other newsworthy material crowds out this news coverage.

The article begins with an illustration:

In May 1999, a storm struck India, reportedly killing 278 people and affecting 40,000. On the same day, a 15-year-old sophomore shot and wounded six classmates at the Heritage High School in suburban Atlanta. The two events competed for news time. Since this was just a month after the Columbine high school tragedy, the events at the Heritage High School were extensively covered by the U.S. television network news, while the Indian storm was not covered. About one year earlier, a storm of similar size struck India (killing 250 and affecting 40,000 people). At that time, there was less other breaking news around, and the storm was covered by the television network news. Two days later, the U.S. Ambassador in India, Richard F. Celeste, declared this storm a disaster, and its victims consequently received U.S. relief. He did not issue a disaster declaration for the first mentioned storm and its victims received no U.S. government relief.  

But perhaps only Americans could be so naive about the world as to respond to media reports? By coincidence, this paper appeared in the Australian Economic Review in March.

What Determines Australia’s Response to Emergencies and Natural Disasters?
Simon Feeny and Matthew Clarke
This article examines the determinants of Australia’s response to emergencies and natural disasters. It examines the response from the Australian public by examining contributions made to the appeals of the country’s largest Non-Governmental Organisation: World Vision of Australia. It also examines the response of the Australian Government. The data include 43 emergencies and natural disasters since 1998. Results suggest that the responses from both the public and government are positively associated with the number of people affected, media coverage, and the level of political and civil freedom in the country where the event occurred. The type and location of the emergency or disaster are important for the public’s response. Differences between public and government donations exist: support from the Australian Government is positively associated with smaller countries and there is some evidence that the public donates more to events occurring in larger and poorer countries.

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1 Response to Hold the front page?

  1. dk.au says:

    Andrew, media theorists have some good offering on this topic; though they seldom attempt the Popperian hoop jumping. See for example Mary Ann Doane’s work on catastrophe and ‘weird media events’. I also find these ideas useful for explaining the ongoing difficulties with representing and reporting climate change issues.

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