On October 13, 2010, I watched as a dirty, red, white, and blue cylinder slowly emerged from a hole that was only 26 inches in diameter. The first of the 33 Chilean miners was rescued – after spending 69 days trapped 2,300 feet underground. For me, it was that first live, global, news event – and I had witnessed it thousand of miles away, on television, from my comfortable couch in Washington, DC.
After the first rescue, I could not keep my eyes off the television. Not only was the scene emotional, the event was covered unlike any other event I had seen on television. For the majority of the evening, the screen was split, showing the crane and wheel spinning the rope to lower or bring up the capsule, and either the family members anxiously waiting by the side of the mine, the crowd gathered in Chile in front of a jumbotron, or the “mine cam.” Also on the screen was a clock counting the time the miner had been in the capsule on the way to the surface, which added to the suspense. The format barely changed throughout the evening, and the commentators refrained from engaging in meaningless chitchat. Orchestrated by Chilean state TV, who provided all of the footage to the major networks, the coverage was carefully crafted in order to make this a suspenseful, worldwide event, one that showcased national pride and determination.
Television is the stepchild to the interwebs in most modern communication theory. Yet, I believe television was the most effective tool in engaging viewers with the emotional experience. As quoted in the Media Decoder blog for the NY Times, Mike Rowe stated, “Whatever it is we call reality that passes for TV is nonsense compared to what really is happening right in front of us.” This moment enabled cultures allover the world to converge, and for a moment, we became “a global community of viewers” (Stelter). As Henry Jenkins notes, convergence culture occurs when there is “a situation in which multiple media systems coexist and where media content flow fluidly across them” (322). I watched on the television, but I could have easily watched on the internet, or even on my cell phone.
The form of television is both familiar and capable of providing us all of the information at once – and also enabling the images to speak for themselves, at times without commentators, flashing advertisements, snarky comments below the story, or distractions. We have been conditioned to accept what we see on networks labeled as “news,” to believe in some inherent quality of truth or reality. Yet we all know that this trust is being tested. The strength of the news coverage was the ability of the newscasters to stop speaking and let the images speak for themselves. There was also an added layer of honesty by letting the Spanish go untranslated for some time, creating a sense of global meeting the local. The coverage also provided the “wow factor” of actually having a camera in the mine, showing the emergence of the capsule from the ceiling, the miners preparing themselves – and letting the viewer attempt to figure out what it must have been like down in that hole.
While the media was able to tell the story and share the event with the world, the Chilean government was also worried about media’s potential negative power. While in the mine, the government provided the men with not only financial training, but media training, in order to successfully navigate their newfound fame and celebrity status. It will be interesting to see how this story continues to unfold, as the media onslaught has now begun outside of Chile- with Edison Pena appearing on David Letterman last Thursday night.