Saturday, April 18, 2009

The “Unsinkable” Titanic

The Titanic, in it’s time, was an icon of how far we’ve come as a society. A ship that is unsinkable seemed to be just the beginning. With this attitude in mind, the White Star Liner set off with less than half of the lifeboats needs for the passengers aboard. On Monday, April 15th 1912 the Titanic hit an iceberg causing it to sink and take most of it’s passengers with it.
I focused on two articles written around the same time that were both meant to be breaking news on the event. One article challenges the official story while the other seems to repeat the official story, down to the miscalculated statistics.
The first article is titled “Rule of Sea” and was published by the New York Times the following morning after the Titanic had sunk. It began with ““the biggest steamship in the world” was sunk by an iceberg and went to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean; possibly taking 1,400 passengers and crewmembers.” By the end of the article however, it stated that people onshore were unsure of how the great ship had sunk and that it was either a mechanical failure or because of a collision with an iceberg. I almost felt like this was them covering their butts in the sense that even if it HAD hit an iceberg, maybe it was faulty equipment or something with the engine that pushed it to the point of sinking, after all, it was deemed “unsinkable” in the first place.
This article challenged the official story by getting many different officials from many different liners to speak on the subject, instead of just getting a representative from the liner in question. It was able to point out that the Olympic captain had been giving people false reassurance, saying that the Titanic had been towed to safety. It was only those members of the White Star Liner who knew the truth.
The second article I examined was an L.A. Times article covering the event. It cited only one source and it was from a White Star Line official. In this way, the writer failed at newsgathering by relying on only one outlet for information.
In “Discovering the News”, Michael Schudson writes that during the first two decades of the twentieth century, even at the New York Times, “it was not common for journalists to see a clear separation between facts and values”. I think that the L.A. Times article is an example of this. They only used the official source because they are deemed “reliable and trustworthy” because of the title they hold and therefore should be enough of a source for the whole story. This is the thought of the time and it really limited newsgathering because everyone has their own perspective and there is never just one side to a story. The New York Times did a better job at questioning the status quo by including information that the other ship was falsely reassuring people. This may have decreased the chances of a ship setting off to help the Titanic (or at least that may be argued). This article was well rounded considering the lack of access since the event occurred in the ocean and the time restrictions (the printed a few hours after the ship had sunk).
The need for a variety of sources in this case can be compared to the media coverage during September 11th and the years following. American’s felt so betrayed and abashed that this could happen; they became more patriotic than ever (like the White Star Line being cocky and being “sure” the ship could never sink hence fewer lifeboats). At the same time, the media only relied on official sources when we began invading Iraq. Everyone, including the media, followed along with passionate fervor. Unfortunately, the war may or may not have been the right thing to do. And today, we have suffered because of the lack of media questioning that went on during that period. If a variety of sources had been used, maybe the public would’ve known the truth behind the Iraq war sooner.

Proquest Newspaper Source
“Discovering the News”

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