(I’ve been hanging onto this post for a bit, so some of it might seem historical by modern speed-of-the-net standards.)

I keep thinking (hoping might be a better word) that media can tear itself away from depending on a common narrative when big news breaks. As handy a reporting tool as it is to have the story shaped for you, and by you, the obvious weakness is the possibility that the real story may be missed.

That’s what happened with Hurricane Gustav. The obvious story, as Gustav bore down on the Louisana-Texas coast, was would happen to New Orleans. Early on that made sense: the earlier destruction of the city, concerns over how well its defences had been strengthened and the potential for further tragedy were the story.

And New Orleans remained the story, even as it became clear it would be only brushed by Gustav, and even as Gustav plowed further inland and caused massive damage to Baton Rouge, leaving millions without power. From a current BusinessReport.com report:

Gustav slammed the Baton Rouge area as hard as any storm since Hurricane Betsy in 1965. Wind gusts reached 91 mph, one shy of Betsy’s record. Every one of DEMCO’s more than 95,000 members in seven Capital Region parishes lost power, and nearly 829,000 Entergy customers statewide went dark. In short, the outages were the worst the Baton Rouge area had ever seen. At its peak, nearly 1.4 million people in the state lost power, Gov. Bobby Jindal said.

I wasn’t aware of the horrible situation in Baton Rouge until several days after Gustav was gone, primarily because the media I was reading had little to say about it. The narrative had changed a little — from fear to relief — but New Orleans was still the centre of the story.

A couple of weeks back (sorry, I didn’t note the exact date), I got curious and did a little searching. I went to three Canadian and two American newspaper sites, where I entered the search terms Gustav “New Orleans” and Gustav “Baton Rouge.” Here’s what a found:

The Vancouver Sun returned 62 articles from the last 30 days that included Gustav and “New Orleans” and two articles in response to Gustav and “Baton Rouge.” One of those was a sports brief.

The same search at the Globe & Mail, puzzlingly, brought up only three articles on Gustav “New Orleans,” and none on Gustav “Baton Rouge.” At the National Post, there were 27 results for the New Orleans version of the search and three from the Baton Rouge version. All three dealt with the effect Gustav had on oil prices.

The New York Times did as bad: 11,360 hits on Gustav and “New Orleans” and a paltry 411 on Gustav and “Baton Rouge.” And at the Washington Post, searching Gustav AND “New Orleans” brought me 293 hits; Gustav AND “Baton Rouge” fetched 59.

Now, it’s widely held that newspaper site search is hardly state-of-the-art. Too, using search terms to figure out what was covered is a pretty heavy hammer. But there’s something there that suggests at least some of us were let down by the large-scale buy-in to a single narrative, instead of to covering the whole story.

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