Not all journalists are against preppers
The TV show Doomsday Preppers has been a double-edged swords for the prepping community. On one hand it’s put emergency preparations on the mind of millions of more people around the world but due to TV ratings and trying to get viewers, they sensationalized a few wackos and made some of the normal preppers look like they’re crazy. This is pretty much on par for what most in any kind of television or journalism career but not all. Most of the articles about preppers I’ve read from the media are critical of preppers, but not all.
Whereas a lot of journalists would never let facts stand in the way of a good story, Alan Feuer of the NY Times is not among them. (NY Times? – I know, right?). Instead of riding the bandwagon along with a lot of his colleagues to write a story that’s critical of preppers, he decided to do what any good journalist should do and actually dive into it himself. I first saw his story when I read his article The Preppers Next Door.
I wanted to know a bit more about Alan and about the whole journalism vs prepping thing so I asked him a few questions. All the bold and italics in the story are mine – created for dramatic effect (and to point out a couple of key phrases for those of you who haven’t had your coffee yet).
My interview with Alan: Journalism vis-a-vis preppers
I would imagine that being a reporter puts you in a difficult situation occasionally because as much as we value the First Amendment, towing a certain party line is probably to be expected. Since your articles about preppers are different than almost all reporters, how has this different take affected how your colleagues see you? Do they see you as differently as other preppers’ neighbors see them? Have you ever felt any pressure to put out pieces that fall in line with what most reporters are writing?
I have to say, most of my colleagues were complimentary of and interested in rather than skeptical or dismissive of the story.
None of them knew in advance I was writing it and while some were obviously surprised to learn about my interest in prepping, no one gave me even the slightest of funny looks. A couple of jokes about, Hey now I know where I’m going when the SHTF (my place) but that’s it’s, honestly.
Your question about feeling pressure to write stories that fall in line with general consensus is a big one. Certainly that didn’t happen in this case because the story was designed from the start to use my own interest in prepping to explore the NYC community, so in that sense no one else could have written it.
I genuinely feel that my approach to the subject was pretty balanced between believing it’s important yet being skeptical about the extremes; but that wasn’t even some kind of journalistic choice—it’s just how I feel.
Now whether there is pressure in general to write one way or another, whether that means politically or otherwise, is a question too big, too nuanced and too complicated to answer here (and my answer might even surprise you!) though I’m happy to take a crack at answering it another time
A lot of preppers value getting together with other like-minded individuals and see prepping as not only a way to get ready for emergencies but as a fun hobby to share with others. Do you attend any prepper-related events other than for work?
I hadn’t attended any formal prepper meetings until I did this story.
The professional job of doing the article was motivated in part by a personal desire to know more likeminded people around me. That said, I have a couple of friends who are preppers to various degrees, so there’s that. And I also feel a certain kinship meeting others who feel the same way. Not to mention (and I wish I had more time to in the story) it’s my belief that one of the most important ways to be prepared for any sort of disaster is to have a robust community around you.
What I like is that you’ve actually done your homework about prepping instead of just trying to jump on the bandwagon to get the maximum number of subscribers.
The lonewolf slinking off with a go-bag into the wilderness is a fantasy.
How do you see the media’s part in getting the word out about emergency preparedness? Do you think reporters should be writing pieces that would wake up people to the fact that tornados, floods and other disasters happen and should be part of their planning or do you think journalists should just be reporting this preparedness as a thought exercise for community interest?
It’s a shame that the media—especially TV—has gravitated toward the most extreme and thus absurd elements of prepping. I don’t think we have to talk about why that happens, but it still sucks. So it would be nice if there were more attempts to explore the important issues that lie beneath an activity that does, obviously, tend to attract freaks from time to time.
The media’s not often good at focusing on rational parts of a story if there are other, more irrational parts out there that might expose them to looking foolish. Wish that weren’t the case but it is.
There’s clearly more to do than cover tornadoes or even cover how to prep for a tornado. I’m interested in why prepping seems so prevalent right now. Is the world truly more dangerous and unstable? I suppose you could make an argument it is—though the 70s with oil shock, inflation, etc must’ve felt somewhat similar (I was born in 71.) Are we really facing more urgent threats or have we simply become more anxious as we become more comfortable? Those are things I’d love the media to talk about more.
How do you see how journalism has affected the ‘prepper movement’ and what would you suggest to bloggers, authors and everyday preppers to use journalism and writing to help others? On one hand, it lumps us all together as crazy but on the other hand, it’s highlighted the need for people to get ready for at least some kinds of emergencies.
They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I don’t actually buy that. My sense is that Doomsday Preppers has probably been a net negative for people who take this sort of thing seriously. It’s allowed the whole to be ridiculed, and thus dismissed, because of the “sins” of a part. It’s turned what’s at base an important, rational idea into evening entertainment.
What advice do you have for bloggers who are using their website as their voice, especially preppers?
I think one of the most important avenues for bloggers to explore is the relationship between prepping and politics (I didn’t have room in my story to do it.) Even though putting stuff in a bag or in your closet or learning first aid are all apolitical activities we both know that a certain brand politics is generally associated with prepping. I think that’s bad for prepping—and for politics. Are people of a rightwing bent more likely to prep? Maybe. But of course it depends what kind. Rightwing Washington think-tankers? Probably not so much. At the same time, can we imagine hippy Vermont types who know a little about the natural world prepping? Of course. It goes without saying that the gun debate complicates this even further. It’s all fascinating and useful to talk about and I’d suggest to anyone that that’s a very deep vein to mine.
So; my thoughts on this all. You did come here to read about my thoughts after all, didn’t you?
Journalism is a business. As such, journalists have not only an obligation to report the news to the general public, they have an obligation to their masters. Unfortunately because journalism is a business, there is an inherent conflict of interest (Read the book Feeding Frenzy: Attack Journalism and American Politics (New Lanahan Editions in Political Science)). Even worse, because journalism is the basis of all good propaganda, there are those in industry and politics who use their influence to have journalists, TV shows and movies put out stories that’ll further their cause. As Alan alludes to, a lot of the media that we see regarding gun control could be coming from the political arena (I didn’t have to tell most of you that).
If you have a prepper-related blog, think about Alan’s advice and start looking at the politics of prepping, especially how it relates to gun control. If you don’t have a blog yet but are interested in stories like that, or they have affected you, consider starting your own blog. Getting a domain name and website are pretty easy these days.
So what are your thoughts?