Location, location, location: What do Coptic leaders think, watching coverage of London attacks?

The journalism patterns are familiar by now when terrorists strike one of the important cities of Western Europe. At this point, I don't think the news protocols are as well established for attacks in North America -- because they have not become that "normal," yet.

Surely you have spotted some of the guidelines that have been in effect for some time now.

It's more "conservative" to put references to "Allah" -- in quotes from eyewitnesses -- in ledes or, especially, in headlines. In early coverage, the higher journalists play the religion card, the more "conservative" the publication. For example, it is more "conservative" to state that attackers attempted to cut the throats of victims (because it calls to mind hellish Islamic State videos) than it is to say that victims were merely stabbed. It's easy, for example, to guess which British newspaper used this headline online: 

Terrifying moment three Jihadis were shot dead after killing seven and hurting 48: Gang yell 'This is for Allah' after mowing down crowd on London Bridge then going on stabbing frenzy

That would be The Daily Mail. The overture in its early report punched all the usual buttons: 

Police are today seeking the identities of three Jihadi terrorists who were shot dead by armed police after killing seven people and injuring dozens of others in a horrific van and knife rampage through central London last night. 
The men, described as being 'of Mediterranean origin', mowed down up to 20 revellers as they careered across London Bridge in an 'S shape' at 50mph before they began 'randomly stabbing' people in nearby Borough Market.

We will come back to coverage of this latest attack on and near London Bridge. Before we do, however, I would like to acknowledge that I have received reader emails, in recent weeks, asking this familiar question: Why do attacks in Europe receive so much more attention in American media than terrorist attacks in, let's say, Egypt, Nigeria or Pakistan?

In other words, readers are asking a variation on that old journalism question: How many Coptic Christians have to die in Egypt to equal the death of one urbanite in London (or one tourist from the United States)? Once again, we are talking about that mythical chart that is supposed to be hanging in an Associated Press bureau somewhere in our troubled world. As in:

The purpose of the chart is to help editors figure out, when disaster strikes somewhere in the world, just "how big" a story this particular disaster is, compared with others. Is this an A1 or front of the website story? Is this a story that major television networks will mention or perhaps even send personnel to cover? Or was this a story with lots of death and destruction, but it belongs in the back pages somewhere with the other "briefs" that readers won't notice?
The chart has a bottom line and editors can do the math.
It states that, when tragedy or terror strike, 1000 victims in Latvia equals 500 in India, which equals 100 in Mexico, 75 in France, 50 in England, 25 Canada, five in the United States of America (that's flyover country) or one Hollywood celebrity or a famous person in New York City or Washington, D.C.
In other words, according to the mathematics of news, not all human lives are created equal. It's a matter of location, location, location.

There have been some discussions of this X-factor in news coverage, including this Piers Morgan explosion in a visit with Tucker Carlson on Fox News.

“I think unfortunately if it happens in the Middle East,” he explained, “this kind of atrocity, it just does not seem to attract the kind of media attention in America that it would if it happened, as we’ve seen in the attacks in Sweden, the last few days, in London, two weeks ago, I was there for that. Huge attention in the American media. You know, in Paris, in Nice, these get huge attention.”
“And yet what happened in Egypt was unbelievably significant,” Morgan continued. “You know if you look at what ISIS really stands for, what they are carrying out in the Middle East, and in Egypt in particular, is a kind of genocidal attack on Christians and Christianity."

What does this look like online? As I write this on Monday morning, an online search for basic terms linked to the latest London Bridge attack produces roughly 2.5 million links -- in Google News, not a wide open search for the whole Internet.

Meanwhile, if you do the same kind of essential terms search about the recent massacre of Coptic Christians on a pilgrimage to a monastery in Egypt, you get 11,800 hits in Google News.

What's the ratio there?

I know, I know -- it's London. It's London vs. somewhere strange in Egypt. But how many members of an oppressed, threatened religious minority in the Middle East have to be slaughtered to equal the news impact of an attack in a major Western European city?

Well, there are practical concerns. Cable-news operations need lots of live video to go to the mattresses on this kind of story. They still have personnel and cameras in a few major cities in greater Europe, and they certainly have personnel in lively, plugged-in London. And then there are safety concerns. It would be much more dangerous for American journalists -- representing the "crusaders" of the West -- to cover a story in the wilder corners of Egypt, as opposed to London. Right?

This is kind of the point, isn't it?

I would assume that the ratings are higher for door-to-door coverage of attacks in a city like London, as opposed to coverage of obscure locations in Egypt or Nigeria. But do we really know how American viewers and readers will respond to in-depth coverage of persecuted religious believers? 

I do not want to minimize the practical factors that cause this location, location, location factor in coverage of terrorist attacks. However, I am interested in knowing more about why GetReligion readers -- especially journalism professionals and teachers -- think about it. Please leave constructive comments.

Now, back to the early coverage of London Bridge 2.0.

Glance back up at that "conservative" Daily Mail overture, and look at the whole report.

Contrast the tone of that journalism package with the top of this early report at The New York Times, in which clear references to religion elements of the story didn't begin showing up until 15 to 20 paragraphs into the text.

LONDON -- Another night of terrorism unfolded in Britain on Saturday with two attacks that killed six civilians in the center of the capital, London police said.
At least one of the dead was killed when a van careered onto the sidewalk along London Bridge, mowing down pedestrians. The London Ambulance Service said it had brought 48 injured to five hospitals.
The police said they killed three attackers, which they believed to be the total number of assailants.
Witnesses reported that at least one man jumped out of the van wielding a large knife and ran into the nearby Borough Market, a popular spot for pubs and restaurants on the southern side of the Thames.

My question again: What is the journalism logic for minimizing the religious elements of this story, including avoiding the often vivid comments of eyewitnesses?

As you would expect, this early report in The Washington Post was similar -- only with a high, high early concentration on political implications. Again, politics is what is real. 

LONDON -- Less than 24 hours after terrorists killed seven people and injured dozens more in the heart of London, the latest attack to hit Britain this spring became a campaign issue Sunday, with just four days before an unpredictable national election. 
Rival party leaders lashed out at one another as police raided homes and carried out a dozen arrests, and as the nation mourned. ... 
Following the May 22 attack in Manchester, Saturday night’s van-and-knife rampage was the second mass-casualty attack to intrude on the homestretch of a parliamentary campaign that was once thought certain to end in a landslide for Prime Minister Theresa May and the Conservatives. The race has tightened in recent weeks, and terrorism has introduced an unexpected variable.
With her premiership on the line, May took an aggressive and combative tone Sunday, telling the nation that “enough is enough” and insisting there is “far too much tolerance for extremism in our country.”

I am pleased to report that the Associated Press played this story very straight and factual. In other words, eyewitness reports of the attackers screaming, "This is for Allah" wasn't in the lede, but were included in the basic basic background facts, starting in the fourth paragraph. The bottom line: The AP trusted the eyewitnesses, early on.

Another day. Another attack. All of which leads to familiar questions.

So what now? Frankly, I wish that Coptic church leaders here in America would call their local newspapers up and note this painful location, location, location reality in the news. This is even more idealistic: I wish that religious leaders in other flocks would do the same?

Alas, I fear that many religious leaders have, at this point, tuned the mainstream press out. That is another tragedy, on multiple levels, if you care about public discourse and the need for citizens to be informed about what is happening in their world.

Please respect our Commenting Policy