The tragedy of the earthquake in Haiti has obviously captivated people’s attention over the past few days. People are donating, tweeting and searching for news about the quake. So why do the most popular stories on many of the top news Web sites have nothing to do with Haiti?
The top items at WSJ.com right now include an interview with Glenn Beck and article about pay at banks. And it’s not just that Journal readers’ politics make them more likely to be interested in those topics; the New York Times isn’t currently listing any Haiti stories among its most read either. On the BBC, stories about Haiti are trumped by a video of a dog that understands Polish.
The Times post linked above suggests that people can’t cope with the scale of the problem, and so they watch pet videos instead. I think that might be true — except for the fact that people actually are coping with the problem as much as can be expected. They’re donating in record amounts through text messaging and the like; it might not be much, but it certainly could be less. Most people realize they can’t physically go to Haiti and save people, but they aren’t being completely inactive, either.
So what’s the answer? I don’t know. I’d guess, though, that people are just successfully compartmentalizing the news and quickly making decisions about what actions (like donating) actually help them cope and what actions probably wouldn’t do much at this point except make them sad.