I am still waiting to see this news somewhere other than Facebook or behind the paywall at the Press Enterprise. Since I haven’t, I think it is important to help get some of the facts being reported to the open web. The American Red Cross is now reporting that the flood destroyed more than 1,000 homes and did damage to another 2,300 in Columbia County alone. According to Peter Kendron, Press Enterprise writer, in an article published on September 16, 2001, “If those numbers hold up, it means more than 10 percent of the county’s 29,500 households saw some sort of flooding last week.”
What is crazy to me is that if this happened in a larger area and 10 percent of the homes were flooded, in say Philadelphia, don’t you think it would be making news? Remember, percentages are percentages. In my mind part of the reason for this lack of broad awareness lies on what D’Arcy Norman called a “cone of silence” in a post he made this week. My friend and colleague, Ellysa Cahoy, built on that concept when she wrote an excellent post yesterday bringing to light the complexities associated with access to local newspapers. The cone of silence doesn’t seem real to people at the local level because they are both living in the midst of the disaster and there is near pervasive access to the local paper via the little blue boxes selling the physical paper on every corner.
This poses two immediate problems. The first is that news doesn’t move across the open web in a way that stories can be picked up and shared in ways that builds awareness to the intensity of the damage — remember that 10 percent of the homes were flooded. When local news doesn’t get picked up and shared it doesn’t provide strong returns via google and other search engines so non-local news agencies can’t report on the tragedy as widely as they should. When that happens everyone loses — relief organizations are slower to respond, national media is under represented, and philanthropic organizations never get involved. The other issue is one that Ellysa identifies in her post — access to long-term historical information is lost. That means the history of our town is limited to first hand reports and memories by citizens. The problem dramatically impacts historians, scholars, and future generations … according to Ellysa who is a Library Research faculty member at The Pennsylvania State Unviersity,
What this tells me is that a researcher studying the recent Bloomsburg flood (and wanting access to local news coverage) would have to travel to Bloomsburg to access the articles. It’s a similar story for any other news events occurring in Bloomsburg, including the 1972 flood. We can’t depend on local news institutions to look any farther than their print subscription proceeds … They’ve already proven that they are myopic and doomed to eventual obsolescence. It’s just a matter of time for that.
Let me remind everyone that we aren’t talking about free access to today’s news. Reporting news costs money and if local papers want to sell that news on a daily basis, they should. We are talking about searchable, open, linkable archives of yesterday and back that are openly accessible online. For the sake of broad awareness and access to historical archives this should be happening. I pulled some more facts from the Press Enterprise article that I’d like to share from the Red Cross reporting. I certainly hope the Press allows me to share this more broadly:
- 976 single-family homes destroyed, along with 190 apartments
- 801 homes, including 676 single-family homes, 10 mobile homes and 115 apartments had major damage, which means they will not be habitable until they are repaired
- About 301 single-family homes had minor damage. Those homes are habitable, but need repair. They might have minor roof or structural damage, broken windows, some roofing or siding missing and up to 3 feet of water in the home.
- 1,012 single-family homes and 20 apartments were affected. Such homes have nuisance damage but are habitable without repair. Examples of damage to affected homes include shingles or siding missing, debris around the home, 6 inches to 1 foot of water in the home, and mobile home skirting damaged or missing.
I am a subscriber to the Online Edition of the Press Enterprise, and you can become one for $2.50 a week. If you would like to view or republish an archive of photos showing the damage from the flood, you can access my growing set of associated photos at Flickr.