Thursday, September 15, 2005 | Karen, my bride to be, has 25 years experience in organizational systems analysis. I am in media. We sit side-by-side these days and have interesting conversations.
She talks about what happens in organizations that need to change, and know it, but resist. It drove her crazy to be assigned a systems analysis within an organization or institution, discover the problem and report it, then watch while nothing happened.
“People and organizations really need to be afraid, or in pain, before change can occur,” she said. It makes no difference, she says, how vitally the change is needed, to avoid institutional ruin, or disasters like Sept. 11, Iraq, New Orleans and pension funds. Not until after the fact will the people in charge go back to the pre-disaster analysis, recognize the truth in it, and then do something about it.
I tell Karen how people in my business, the media, constantly call for change in our newspaper and magazine pages. Long reports have been published in the last five years about what a major hurricane would do to New Orleans, with scenarios almost identical to what actually happened with Katrina.
“You know,” I said, “the media could have published an in-depth report on teenagers, culture, violence and guns, with a scenario of multiple deaths in an armed teenaged assault on a high school, and no one would have read it.”
We looked at each other, realizing we were in the same business. It is our job to bring useful, even critical, projections to people who don’t pay us the slightest bit of attention, until something actually happens.
Not one, but two long reports, first in Scientific American (2001), and National Geographic (last October!) described what would happen to New Orleans when the big hurricane hit. The Geographic story was almost word-for-word with the actual Katrina stories in the national media last week. The Times-Picayune in New Orleans has published countless stories about the danger of under-maintained levees and the difficulty of getting federal money to fix them.
The media could have published a story about how easily a major wildfire could get started here, and how planning, equipment and policies would be no match for it, and no one would have done anything about it until after the Cedar Fire.
That fire, in October 2003, burned 2,700 homes, killed 15 people and roared through more than 273,000 acres, from Julian down to Scripps Ranch, and since then, there have been plenty of changes in planning, equipment and policies.
Before 1978, the media could have published analyses of air traffic control patterns in the San Diego area, with no change occurring until after Sept. 25, 1978, when a mid-air collision over North Park killed 135 people on Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182, two men in a Cessna, and seven people on the ground. Shortly after that, control patterns were changed that now send incoming airliners from the north all the way out to La Mesa before they turn around.
Presently there exists a scenario, developed and published by the state Office of Emergency Services in 1988, on the effect of a 6.3 earthquake in San Diego. I have written two stories about the scenario myself, one in this publication three months ago. So I ask readers: on what fault line is the scenario based? Where is the fault line located?
The disconnect is simple. The media sees stories in events that haven’t happened yet. Readers and viewers don’t see stories until they happen. Or, in Karen’s case, they are scared to death. How do we change that? Somebody should write a story.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at