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August 23, 2011

Vermonters Freak Out Over Earthquake


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So, I don't know if you've heard, but there was an earthquake today. A 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia was felt all over the East Coast and into parts of the Midwest. It was kind of a big deal in Washington, D.C., actually. The Smithsonian Castle sustained a bit of damage, and three of the pinnacles on the National Cathedral broke off. (But no, the Washington Monument is not leaning. And yes, Fox News said that.)

Yep, that's the same shaking we felt all the way up here. Seems kind of wild that we could feel a Virginia-centered quake in Vermont, right? Turns out it's because the rock here is "colder and denser," which allows earthquake shaking to travel a longer distance than out West. So now you know.

Here in Vermont, no damage was reported. It just kinda felt like sitting on a boat on a quiet lake for about 10 seconds. Kinda weird that it's the second mild earthquake we've had in 14 months, but that's about the extent of the newsworthiness. That didn't stop the Burlington Free Press and WCAX from busting out the BIG RED BOLD BREAKING NEWS TEXT on their website homepages for the occasion.

The Free Press also took the opportunity to hit the streets and talk to people who were displaced from their offices for five or 10 minutes. (By the way, you shouldn't leave a building during an earthquake. If you're afraid of an imminent ceiling collapse, just get under your desk and cover your head.)

Californians must be laughing so hard at us drama-queen East Coasters right now. But, hey, August is a pretty slow news month! Even CNN went from live coverage of reporters dodging bullets in Libya to live coverage of D.C. office workers standing around outside their buildings and looking confused.

Of course, like any good communal happening in Vermont, today was a good opportunity for locals to get on Twitter and crack jokes. Here are some of the best ones:

So yeah, today's earthquake was unusual, and kind of interesting. But let's keep it in perspective. This was not Japan. Let's save the big red letters for a real disaster. Like maybe that hurricane that's barreling up the coast.

Always a bit ghoulish how some major media outlets work themselves into a frenzy over the potential for hurricane damage.
"Experts have said that IF the storm veers over water that is warm it MAY strengthen to Category 7 and IF it then turns west before going suddenly northeast it MAY have the ability to threaten New York City with devastation."

Bah. The fooking storm will do what it wants, when it wants.

So are you going to mention the 5,000 tweets that 'Tyler Machado' posted during this, or have you already deleted those?

Tyler, hoity-toity is not a becoming trait.

I completely disagree with your assessment of the media's handling of yesterday's quake. I despise the media as much as Sarah Palin, but even I recognize the importance of reporting a 5.8 earthquake on the East Coast (aka the coast of ours not built to sustain major earthquakes), especially when you consider how social media affects society's response to these events. For example, I immediately checked my Facebook and was alarmed when I discovered that one of my Virginian friends felt an earthquake, too. Because I know nothing about earthquakes, I assumed this meant the epicenter was between our two states and when my elementary geography skills told me the halfway point was NYC, I got really worried. And when I found out that it happened 84 miles from our nation's capital, I definitely wanted to learn more.

Considering your many Tweets on the subject, I know I wasn't the only one with such a reaction. As such, I'd even go so far as to argue that any news outlet, local or not, is justified in using big red letters for the headline of such a breaking news story. When an event happens that compels the majority of New England to search the Internet for answers, I think the media isn't out of line when making their headline stand out.

Of course the end result wasn't Japan, which is why all of the major news outlets have returned to their regularly-scheduled beaten-to-death story. But that doesn't mean it wasn't worth reporting, or worth reporting with the urgency required to cut away from fighting in Africa.

Stu: I had a whole blog post to make snarky jokes, you want me to include the snarky Tweets I made, too?

Bungalow Benchly: I don't disagree that the earthquake was newsworthy. Just not here. In Vermont, it was a gentle rattle that some people felt and some people didn't, and then people talked about it on social media. I don't think that's worth dedicating the entire screen above the (figurative) fold, especially since the exact same thing, Tweets and all, happened last summer, too. It's worth mentioning, but I don't think it's worth going into breaking-news mode over (again, talking about here, not in DC). That feels sensational to me.

In DC, where the quake was a considerably bigger deal and actually caused some damage, I agree that it was a big news story, but I also think the big cable news outlets dragged it out too long. There was some REALLY captivating video on CNN yesterday coming from Libya, straight from the center of the conflict. But as soon as the quake hit, they went to live coverage of DC office workers standing around for hours. Certainly not as capitvating, and given that there wasn't massive damage or loss of life, I don't think it was worth completely preempting Libya coverage. (I did notice that the New York Times relegated earthquake coverage to a box in the lower right of their homepage, giving top, page-width space to Libya all day long. I agreed with that approach.)

Thanks for commenting, y'all. I appreciate the arguments. BTW, no matter the news level of the quake, the reactions of the animals at the National Zoo makes for a good read. Especially the pandas, of course:

How was this worth a Daily 7 entry? The rash of LOL U FAIL blog posts around here are making me less enthusiastic about the content of 7D than I used to be.

At least Stuck in Vermont is always delightful and entertaining.

Whoa. Earthquake. #btv #vt

Holy crap. DC and New York City tweeps both saying there was an earthquake there, too. #btv #vt

@JeremyLittau We just felt that all the way up here in Burlington. Whoaaaaaa.

'Californians must be laughing so hard at us drama-queen East Coasters right now.' - Tyler Machado, 2011

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