It is incredible how selective our media is on what deserves to be newsworthy on a national level. Events that are significant for our society are often swept under the rug, because they are not relatable or easy to understand for a major news network’s mainstream audience. A recent and notable example of this was the devastating winter storm “Atlas” that occurred in South Dakota earlier this month. .
Although close to home, both geographically and economically, Atlas has gone unnoticed to many here and is barely a blip on the radar for the rest of the nation. Atlas was a record breaking storm that delivered over 30 inches of snow in some parts of South Dakota and the surrounding area. More significant was the loss of livestock: over 100,000 head of cattle across South Dakota perished. Despite this devastating loss to ranchers and cattlemen, the story took a week to break on major news networks and faded quickly.
The disconnect between consumer and provider is painfully apparent. Forums on the websites of networks such as CNN and NBC showed comments reflecting a poor understanding of the agricultural process. Viewers raised concerns that ranchers, knowing the storm was coming, should have been more prepared. Some were even shocked that ranchers don’t simply construct massive shelters for thousands of cattle. Still others had the gall to assume ranchers in Mid-America are somehow wealthy enough to afford this kind of loss or thought the government would simply reimburse cattlemen for dead livestock.
These opinions from everyday Americans not involved in Agriculture show a painful ignorance of just how the steak reaches their plate. The truth is, ranchers in the area were given almost no assistance from the government for their losses. Small families were left with the somber task of digging thousands of carcasses out of the snow themselves, sweating to dispose of years of toil and dedication.
There is hope, however, for these ranchers. Unsurprisingly, it is not from the government but from their neighbors and friends. There are several groups volunteering to help victims of the storm. Donation accounts have been set up, as well as organized volunteer groups. Many ranchers in Montana have donated cattle to help restock lost herds. Interestingly, social media has been more effective in organizing aid and spreading awareness than traditional news.
This event is now significant in many ways. The local and national economies have been altered because of financial loss. Hardworking Americans have suffered physical and emotional hardship. Through the tragedy, neighbors and friends have banded together to overcome loss. So why do so few in the country know this story and those that do interpret it poorly? What exactly qualifies a story for national coverage? Although reliable and honest news coverage has been a challenge in America for some time, these are still important questions to raise. In the meantime, farmers and ranchers will continue to take care of their own.