The world shrank a little more this week as seemingly every news organization on the planet trained its cameras and reporters on the Chilean mine where 33 men were rescued after 69 days underground.
“Isn’t it about time we all shared some good news?” said Kerry Sanders of the US network NBC in a rhetorical question that summed up the reasons behind the extraordinary coverage.
The miners had been trapped 700 metres underground since August 5, and the first 17 days passed without anyone else even knowing whether they were dead or alive.
When they finally emerged following a massive rescue effort, there were some 1,500 journalists from around the world waiting to greet them, zooming in on their triumphant reunification with their loved ones and waffling on for hours about the miners’ relief and joy, not to mention the psychological damage of the long ordeal and the media spotlight facing them on their release.
According to the New York Times, the journalits came from 33 countries on five continents. A government spokesman said that more media outlets were covering the rescue than reported on Chile’s 8.8 magnitude earthquake, one of the largest in human history, that killed 300 people in February and reduced much of the region to rubble.
Time.com reported that there were so many reporters in Copiapo, hometown to many of the miners, and Camp Esperanza, the makeshift quarters for many families, that the president of the local tourism board said the desert mining town had taken in more visitor revenue in 30 days than it usually does in an entire year.
On the web, the rescue coverage generated more than 4 million page views a minute even before the first miner had been pulled out early Wednesday, making it the fifth most viewed event in web history, behind only two World Cup finals, Wimbledon and the inauguration of Barack Obama, according to web traffic firm Akamai.
And at least five of the top 10 “trending topics” on Google and Twitter on Wednesday were linked to the rescues in Chile, while Facebook users in Chile posted 478 news stories per minute about the rescue at its start. Users in the United States posted 1,265 stories per minute, according to Andrew Noyes, a Facebook spokesman.
That shouldn’t be too surprising. “The story of 33 men trapped underground in a mine in Chile has captivated the entire world, for good reason: it’s a disaster story that’s not a disaster,” explained the Columbia Journalism Review. “It’s an inspirational story of survival that seems made for a movie script.” Mario Kreutzberger, a Chilean journalist known as Don Francisco, whose Sabado Gigante is the hemisphere’s most popular Spanish -- language television show, put it this way: “This is important for our country after we got hit hard by the second worst earthquake in our history this year,” Kreutzberger told Time. “But we’re in a world crisis too. Something this extraordinarily life-preserving is important to everybody, because the whole world has been hit hard.” Others found different reasons to celebrate the rescue. Steve Ressler, whose Govloop.com is a kind of Facebook for government employees, said the success of the government-led rescue is an antidote to the growing anti-government clamour by rightwingers around the world.
“Government is an easy scapegoat and a frequent target for what’s going wrong with America -- or any country for that matter,” he wrote on The Huffington Post. “But government always seems to be involved in finding solutions to our most vexing issues.” Others invoked the name of the great mine boss in the sky to explain the story’s significance. They needed to look no further than the comments of one of the rescued miners, who explained the tussle for survival in the depths of the earth as a struggle between God and the Devil.
But perhaps it was the television critic of the Guardian who nailed it best.
“Chile miners rescue is like Big Brother,” said the headline. “But you care.”