But were ocean goers more likely to
be bitten by a shark this year than in previous ones? According
to statistics complied by the International Shark Attack File at
the University of Florida, the answer is no. The number of unprovoked
shark attacks in the state decreased from 38 in 2000 to 37 the following
Then what provoked the journalists?
Critics have not disputed the facts reported by the media, only
their failure to put the incidents into perspective. Because so
much time was devoted to the coverage, it is possible that viewers
might have overestimated the risk.
A state that brought in $50.8 billion in 2002 from tourism, Florida
would be subject to adverse economic effects if scores of worried
beachgoers canceled travel plans for fear of the shark. 13
Tom Flanigan, a VISIT FLORIDA spokesman, said a major news network
producer asked him if the shark attacks were resulting in fewer
people at the beach, a Florida media organization reported.
“We can’t answer that,” he replied. “There
are no turnstiles at the beaches.”24
One Florida news organization reported canceled hotel reservations
around Volusia County. It said Governor Bush blamed lost business
on “inflated reports of shark attacks by media outlets filling
television time in these days of ’24-hour, seven-days-a-week
The same media outlet interviewed British tourists in Orlando’s
airport and reported that the visitors would not be going to the
beach because of the shark stories.26
THE MEDIA REPORT ON THEMSELVES
When a group of sharks convened off Anclote Key mid-August, observers
noted the swarm of reporters who descended to document the event.
“Want to hook a journalist? Drop the word ‘sharks,’
” one reporter from the St. Petersburg Times said to lead
“Dramatic graphics pinpointed the ‘news’ that
there were sharks in the Gulf of Mexico,” the article referred
to the evening news’ treatment of the event. “Not exactly
big news but, by some accounts, it has been a slow summer for news.”31
Experts weighed in, saying that it wasn’t unusual for the sharks
to be feeding in the area.
This is one example where the media began to report on itself.
After they realized the coverage was disproportionate to the statistics,
this hype became the new story angle. (see 34
George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File,
supplied these statistics. According to a 2002 press release, Burgess
participated in 900 interviews from July to September that year.
This was three times the number of requests he usually gets each