The same can be said for the coverage of the floods in Australia, where reporters from news outlets like San Francisco Chronicle and AOL News used local publications like The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald. But most of the similarities in coverage between Brazil and Australia stop there. While reporters did due diligence, keeping readers informed of the death toll in Queensland, there was more coverage on the economic impact of the floods. A typical article at Bloomberg News, for instance, reported that:
“One of the biggest casualties is likely to be our coal exports, with many mines shut down in big coal mining regions like the Bowen Basin, and supply chains severely hampered,” [Federal Treasurer Wayne] Swan said
The cost to the nation of the clean up and rebuilding may be as much as $20 billion ($19.8 billion), economists forecast.
Bloomberg Businessweek and Reuters both ran a series of articles exploring
the potential impact the floods will have on the farming industry in Queensland, and what the government can do to alleviate the situation. The Wall Street Journal covered how the banks will deal with the flood costs and wrote about how the floods might affect the labor pool in the area. A handful of news outlets had some insightful commentary on how the farmers will respond to these floods. For example, The New York Times’s Aubrey Belford reported that:
While some farmers may leave the land because of the floods, the bigger threat in the longer term is still likely to be a lack of water, said Chris Cocklin, an environmental scientist who is the deputy vice chancellor of James Cook University in Queensland. Before the start of heavy rains late last year, a drought had persisted for more than a decade across the Murray-Darling Basin, a vast irrigated river system in eastern Australia that is the country’s most important agricultural area. In many areas, it would take years of significant rain to bring underground aquifers up to healthy levels, Dr. Cocklin said.
Nice depth. But even more impressive were reporters who branched out and compared the two natural disasters. Juxtaposing two distinct events like this is not easy, but most journalists who attempted to do so handled the task well. Comparisons can very quickly become misleading for a reader, preventing them from understanding each situation separately. We saw this happen with the Haiti-Katrina coverage a few years ago, but the coverage was better this time. According to an insightful article by Alexei Barrineuvo in The New York Times:
Disaster experts say that the stark difference in the death tolls in Brazil and Australia, where at least 28 people have died in flooding in the northeast in the past two weeks, reveal a wide gap in the preparedness of the countries and their flood management policies.
“In a country like Brazil, which is not a poor country, where technological expertise and resources are really not a problem, large numbers of people dying from floods is not a good sign,” Dr. Sapir said. What Brazil lacks, she said, are “the political will and the priority that public authorities must give to the issue of flood management.”
It’s this type of reporting that adds complexity to these types of events, especially when few reporters reach past the obvious. We wish that we could have seen more, but the impact of these disasters are still unfolding, so perhaps the best reportage is yet to come.
Many questions are still left unanswered. What are the problems the victims in Rio might face, beyond finding new housing? Is there going to be a risk of disease outbreaks in both countries? Can economic policies be adapted in Australia? Can housing policies improve in Brazil? Reporters did a good job prioritizing angles coverage in the immediate aftermath the disasters, and we hope that they will now address these lingering concerns, which will be vital to the recovery of all those affected, and to preparations for the next time that calamity strikes.