How the media gets drought coverage wrong

The perception of many residents that the drought gravely threatened their pocketbook and way of life was more often than not an exaggeration. Such irrational reactions were in part driven by the media’s coverage of the drought. Water, usually taken for granted and ignored, became their lead story as the drought continued. Video from helicopters circling near dry reservoirs and of antagonistic confrontations in surprisingly full water District board rooms made good copy as news reports. Yet most media sources were largely unable or unwilling to convey the more complex and prosaic aspects of water management. In particular, the gulf between traditional water policies and practices and a changing context of supply and demand had widened over many years, and therefore could not be captured on camera. Thus, media sources often responded to public interest in the drought, not by providing adequate background knowledge, but by exaggerating or distorting the actual nature of the scarcity problem.

Tom Waller, describing the 1980s California drought, in “Expertise, Elites, and Resource Management Reform”, Journal of Political Ecology, 1994