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Indigenous Canadians and the bus plunge

Posted on 8 September 2016

Earlier today I wrote about a question I’ve had for a while: does revealing a tragedy has occurred to an indigenous person make people care more, or less, about the problem?

Unbeknownst to me, that question was being answered by Neil Macdonald in a column entitled, “Why clicking on this story about Indigenous people matters.

The whole thing is worth reading, but the key revelation for me is what he calls the “Bus Plunge”:

“In choosing stories and laying out pages at newspapers decades ago, I quickly learned that one dead Canadian anywhere (even more so, a white Canadian), equalled two or three dead Americans, which in turn equalled 10 or 15 Brits or West Europeans, which in turn equalled 30 or 40 dead East Europeans, who were probably white and maybe even Christian, but came from unpronounceable places, and so forth.

“At the very end of the list were Africans, or, say, Bangladeshis. They had to perish in very large numbers indeed to merit any notice.

“Then there was the Bus Plunge. The Bus Plunge was usually a two-paragraph brief from somewhere in the Third World where a bus (or train or ferry or any other contrivance) crashed or plunged or exploded, killing a lot of people. The Bus Plunge was terribly useful; it could be used to plug last-minute holes that resulted from poor layout measurements.

“I’m not saying Indigenous issues are a Bus Plunge. But Indigenous people, I’m afraid, haven’t rated very highly on that unspoken hierarchy. Canadians evidently do not consider Indigenous people proximate — and the less proximate the subject, the more indifferent the audience.”

He backs this up by looking at the number of clicks stories about Indigenous people get versus other stories.

The conclusion:  in cold, hard numbers, it seems people will pay more attention to the line “missing woman” than “missing indigenous woman”.

Filed under: journalism, media

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