Jody Michael

It all began so quickly that it’s just a blur in my memory. I don’t remember what started it, but all of a sudden the dominant national news headline was about widening a part of Interstate 405 in Los Angeles. Of course, you probably know the story as “Carmageddon.”

Sure enough, the media did their best to justify paying attention to this thing. Traffic in Los Angeles is a nightmare, so a road closing of this magnitude would surely cause, um, the end of the world, apparently.

The media forgot one vague detail: This story is important to one city. That’s it, nobody else. What useful information am I, an Ohioan, going to extract from this story? Road improvements aren’t easy? Avoiding traffic is smart? Someone is really good at making creative names for news stories?

Oh, wait; that last point isn’t true: “Carmageddon” is just copying the “Snowmageddon” stories from the previous two winters. The media blew those out of proportion, too: The northeast-U.S. blizzards it references hardly broke any snowfall records, but suddenly they deserved a nickname and our undivided attention?

Even worse for Carmageddon is that Snowmageddon was at least a justifiable news story. A blizzard is an unexpected weather event we humans can’t control. In comparison, Los Angeles planned the road closure more than a month ago. That’s plenty of time to warn residents to find a different route; but no – instead, people panicked and feared some catastrophic traffic jam.

So after all the Carmageddon bombast, it was tremendously ironic to learn Sunday that crews finished the planned 53-hour project 17 hours ahead of schedule, and that weekend traffic was incredibly light with no major problems. In other words, every scary warning you heard about Carmageddon was a massive waste of your time.

One other interesting factoid surfaced this weekend, though: L.A. is planning another similar road closure in 11 months for a different part of the freeway.

When that time comes, if CNN and the network news programs talk your ear off about “Carmageddon Part Two” like they did with the original, it’s time to change the channel; watching their absurdity only encourages them to continue being absurd, and I’m sick of our news media’s penchant for sensationalism.

Now that I’ve said that, this is that part of my column where I could write a good joke about how the media is a serious danger and likely to destroy the human race or something, but I’m not good at such overkill.

The important thing to learn from Carmageddon is that it’s just another reminder that the media aren’t perfect. Unthinkingly following the broadcasters and publishers that have glaringly obvious flaws – like exaggerating Carmageddon — won’t cause hellish torment to the world or anything like that, but shouldn’t we at least find something better?

Jody Michael is a junior news major.

Contact him at [email protected].