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Media outlets rumble with earthquake coverage

Networks, cablers shift attention to natural disaster in Japan

On the heels of large-scale international coverage of events in the Middle East, network and cable news orgs have shifted their resources to the devastation of Friday’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the potential aftershocks, literal and figurative, around the globe.

In addition to ongoing coverage, Fox News Channel preempted “The Glenn Beck Program” at 5 p.m. on Friday to cover the disaster. CNN has opted to devote Saturday coverage from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. to the event, with a special edition of “The Situation Room” focusing on Japan at 6 p.m. and further coverage to follow that evening. MSNBC will add two hours of live stateside coverage on Saturday and Sunday and will use reporting from parent org NBC News, which will have further quake-related programming, as well.

Most nets interrupted programming to air President Obama’s Friday afternoon address.

Also on broadcast, CBS had the only TV reporter reporting live from Japan Friday a.m.: Lucy Craft, who will be joined by Harry Smith and other CBS correspondents and crew this weekend. ABC announced that Christiane Amanpour (who just finished some notably intrepid reporting in Egypt and Libya) would anchor “This Week” from Japan, with “World News” weekend anchor David Muir and the net’s Clarissa Ward en route as well. “Nightline” co-anchor Bill Weir has been reporting from Santa Monica.

Much has been made of the emphasis on U.S. politics in TV news, but recent events have driven coverage of natural disasters and foreign political upheavals, as well. “You can date it back to the Haiti earthquake — that was a huge turning point,” says TV news analyst Andrew Tyndall. “In the old days, you were dependent on a system of foreign bureaus and that turned out to be really expensive.”

Although those days are over, Tyndall says, a news org doesn’t necessarily need a full bureau to generate compelling coverage. News footage can be gathered very quickly without large crews or time-consuming setups using light, easy-to-use equipment like mini HD cameras; and quickly transmitted to a stateside bureau (where it can be professionally edited) thanks to the ubiquity of broadband.

But the biggest winners in the race to gather international news are generally nets with a smaller U.S. footprint. “CNNi is going to be helped the this,” Tyndall predicts. “And BBC is going to be helped by this, and Al Jazeera, as we’ve seen, is always helped by international news.”