Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Media progress in figuring out what's rural

As I've followed the devastating news out of Joplin, Missouri over the past few days, I have been relieved that none of the news reports I've consumed has referred to Joplin as a rural place. The New York Times has consistently referred to it, including in headlines, as a "Missouri City," and has made many references to its population--just under 50,000. I see this as progress of sorts because I suspect that most people outside the four-state area where Joplin sits had ever heard of the city before Sunday night. Often, when a place is unknown on the coasts, it gets labeled "rural" in that broad brush of national journalists referencing places which lie in the "flyover" states--other than, say, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Denver. (See a recent example of media sloppiness on this issue here). With Joplin, however, journalists have gotten it right. This may, however, be less a reflection of an emerging sensitivity to the nuance of the rural-urban continuum than it is attributable to the fact that a key aspect of the Joplin story was that the tornado was so deadly because it struck an urban cluster, not a sparsely populated locale.

No comments: