North Carolina and Florida Shark attacks on Wednesday – Why is this newsworthy?

Holden Beach, NC and St. Pete Beach, FL
Holden Beach, NC & St. Pete Beach, FL

The Star News Online is reporting that Julia Anne Mittleberg, a 26-year old woman, was bitten on the foot by a shark on Wednesday (July 22, 2009). Mittleberg was in 3-4′ of water at Holden Beach, NC when the attack occurred. According to the report, the hospital has confirmed she is in “good condition”.

In other shark attack news, ABC Action News, is reporting that Jenna James, a 19-year-old female, was also bit by a shark on Wednesday (July 22, 2009) while swimming at St. Pete Beach, FL. James was bitten above the knee and did not see the shark, but the wound is said to be consistent with a shark bite. Her injuries are said to not be life-threatening but she underwent surgery, according to the report.

Fortunately, it sounds like both victims will fully recover from their injuries. While these events are almost certainly life-altering experiences, in the respect that the victims will never forget their ordeal, they bring up the question of why shark bites are “newsworthy” as compared to the numerous other animal-associated injuries that people receive on a daily basis. Last month, a friend of mine ended up in the E.R. after accidentally stepping on a stingray in South Carolina. I’ve known multiple people who have ended up needing medical attention (in a few cases, serious injuries occurred) due to dog bites. I’ve known people who have ended up in the E.R. due to bee stings. Yet, none of these incidents made it to the news.

"We're not worthy!" (or at least not newsworthy)
"We're not worthy!" (or at least not newsworthy)

Why does every single shark attack end up making headlines? I can think of two reasons right off the top of my head.

  1. Shark attacks are so rare that any time one occurs, it makes the headlines.
  2. People have a genuine fascination with sharks as compared to other animals (a lot of it due to misplaced fear, unfortunately).

The irony of the sharks attack being so rare that it makes them newsworthy is that this gives the impression in the media that all sharks do is attack people. Reports of shark attacks make up a major source of information about sharks that we see in the mainstream media. The fact that news anchors and reporters like to sensationalize any event involving a shark doesn’t really help to dispel the impression that sharks are out there attacking people all the time. The fascination and “fear-factor” element is likely the driving force behind these sensational reporting tactics (along with some ignorance on the part of reporters).  At the end of the day ratings and money are going to drive what’s being reported, and for some reason shark attack stories sell.

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