The media serve society in times of emergencies
by relaying messages from official sources and by checking this
information with independent story sources.7
Media users take the received messages, process them along with
those from other informants, and make decisions about the event.
For example, residents in a coastal area might listen to reports
about the strength and path of an approaching hurricane, consider
it with the advice given by friends, factor in their past storm
experiences and then decide to evacuate the area.18
Although there are other influences, the media’s ability
to distribute messages to the masses makes them appropriate candidates
for study and criticism.
Media's role in audience behavior
The hurricane example mentioned earlier was the subject of a study
conducted some years ago.18 While
the focus was on mass communication as a warning system, the study’s
look at behavior can be used when examining news coverage of disasters.
This sounds obvious but it has important implications. What other
behaviors might the media affect?
- Method: Survey of Galveston, Texas, residents to gauge reaction
to media coverage of Hurricanes Alicia and Danny.
- Some findings: People made decisions about leaving the area
after getting information from both the media and interpersonal
channels. More than 60% of those surveyed said the media was fairly
accurate in covering events.
- Conclusion: “The media played a major role in behavior
that followed the alert.”