Friday February 26, 2010: The Trainer, The Whale, and The Media

You probably know that on Wednesday, a whale trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando was killed by, well, a killer whale.  If  you live in Central Florida, you definitely know about it, because that has been the lead story on every newscast since it happened.  It’s a tragic story: 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau was dragged underwater, thrashed about, and drowned by an orca named Tillikum.  This horrifying event was apparently witnessed by a good many park visitors.

Dawn Brancheau (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Julie Fletcher)

The whale shows at the SeaWorld parks in Orlando and San Diego were immediately shut down.

It’s a particularly tragic story because Dawn Brancheau, as do all of SeaWorld’s trainers, really loved the animals with which she dealt daily.  She had been inspired to take on her life’s career after a visit to SeaWorld when she was nine.  And it seems as though it could  have been prevented because this particular whale had been involved with the deaths of several other people on at least one, perhaps two, occasions.

And, of course, it’s a story that merits extensive coverage.   It’s more than just a local story as well.  All of the network morning shows were on it yesterday, and at WMFE,  our news director fed a couple of voicers to NPR.

But local media here, as they always do, leapt on the story with an enthusiasm which I find most unseemly.  You can almost hear excitement and eagerness in their voices, even as they furrow their brows and put on their frowny tragedy faces before the camera.  The media feeding frenzy (which seems an unfortunate choice of words) continues unabated.  Here’s a screen shot of today’s Orlando Sentinel Web site…

… and from Central Florida News 13:

…and from WDBO (AM 580):

They just can’t get enough of it.

It reminds me of last November, when a guy with a gun went into an office building in downtown Orlando, and killed one person.  At the time, we didn’t know whether  a mad gunman was on the loose, bent on killing as many people as he could, so for an hour or two, schools were locked down, police cordoned off several blocks, and a manhunt began.  A few hours later, the gunman was taken into custody at his mother’s home.

But the frenzy continued.  For several days, it was BREAKING NEWS!!! which merited LIVE TEAM COVERAGE!!!

“Breaking News” is now the big catch phrase for any story the media wants to squeeze until the very last drop of blood is wrung from it. When I started in the news media, back in the 70s, it was more industry jargon.  And it meant an event that was taking place right that very minute.  It did not mean the interminable follow-up stories.

Just as an aside,  I worked at Orlando’s SeaWorld back in the early ’80s, as a ski-show announcer.  I know how close the trainers are to each other, and to the whales, dolphins and other animals in their care.  And, for what it’s worth, I would like to express my sincere condolences to the SeaWorld family, and the family and friends of Dawn Brancheau.

Today’s Curiosities

  • Sick of Red Bull?  Try the new anti-energy drink Slow Cow.  If you mix them together and drink them, do you just stay the way you are?
  • Yesterday, a real instructional film, today a parody.  It’s called “Steve Needs a Haircut.”  Note: I am not the featured Steve.  Although I could use a haircut:

Have a great weekend… see you Monday!  –Steve


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