Media watch: 2010's top five


April Forristall, assistant editor

Published on
December 20, 2010

Editor’s note: Through year’s end SeafoodSource is running a series of “best of” lists looking back at the news, analysis and opinion that captivated the global seafood trade in 2010.

As part of my Media Watch commentary, I analyze the mainstream media’s coverage of the seafood industry. Here’s a look at the top five seafood-related news stories of 2010, in the eyes of the mainstream media in the United States:

5) In June, the Ocean Alliance released a study on toxin levels in whales that grossly overstated the impact on seafood safety. “You could make a fairly tight argument to say that it is the single greatest health threat that has ever faced the human species. I suspect this will shorten lives, if it turns out that this us what’s going on,” Ocean Alliance President Roger Payne told the Associated Press. National Fisheries Institute spokesman Gavin Gibbons called the quote an “overstatement of biblical proportions” and said the mainstream media’s approach to seafood still needs improvement. “I’m just not sure that kind of rhetoric passes the straight-face test when you’re talking about whale toxicology,” said Gibbons.

4) “When you’re on top, somebody wants to knock you off. Seafood is a nutritional darling, and we as an industry better be ready for any and all of that kind of negative press,” Evie Hansen, founder of National Seafood Educators told SeafoodSource in response to a November study that said omega-3s have no effect on postpartum depression or infant cognitive development. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was picked up globally by the mainstream media, which ran headlines such as “Fish oil pills no help in pregnancy” and “Fish oil doesn’t benefit new moms, babies.” However, the study looked only at fish oil’s effects on postpartum depression and infants’ language skills and cognitive development, and it only examined fish oil supplements, not fish consumption in general, which most media outlets neglected to mention when covering the study.

3) One October story grabbed Hollywood’s attention as well as the mainstream media’s. The popular Discovery Channel show “Deadliest Catch” almost said goodbye to three of its stars — Sig Hansen and Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand — due to a breach-of-contract dispute. ABC News questioned whether the show could sustain such a loss: “The stakes are high for Discovery. Without Hansen, the Hillstrands or Capt. Phil Harris, who died in February, the network risks damaging one of its biggest franchises.” When the show premiered in 2005, it elevated Alaska crab to rock star status, raising consumer awareness of the crab-fishing industry and giving viewers a new appreciation for commercial fishing and an understanding of why the product could be so expensive. However, industry insiders didn’t believe a drop in ratings for the show would lead to a drop in crab sales. “If they cancel and it’s over, I don’t really think it will have a negative effect,” Rob George, president of the Crab Broker, told SeafoodSource. “[The success of the show] depends on who they cast. If they have good personalities and good story lines, people will watch.”

2) With 5 million viewers, “Today” is one of the United States’ most-watched news outlets. So in November when the show called out imported seafood for containing trace amounts of banned substances, the industry backlash was significant. The National Fisheries Institute, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Thailand’s Agriculture Ministry responded to the report by pointing out its inaccuracies. The story didn’t gain must traction. But around the same time a Consumer Reports expose on canned and pouched tuna did catch the eye of the mainstream media, reigniting the mercury-in-fish debate. Time magazine, CNN, ABC and the New York Times are just a few of the high-profile news outlets that covered the report. Again, the NFI fired back, calling the story “simply a retread of a 2006 report that does a disservice to its readers using tried and true tactics to exaggerate concern.”

1) That Americans voted the Gulf of Mexico oil spill’s impact on the region’s seafood supply as the top food story of 2010 should comes a little surprise — coverage in the mainstream media was unprecedented. In May, media outlets in every U.S. state and in Canada and Europe covered the oil spill and its impact on the Gulf seafood, doing a pretty good job of deciphering the spill’s impact on fishing activities and seafood supplies. Then, in June, the seafood industry worked to combat the misinformation about oil-tainted seafood, with state agencies across the region reaching out to mainstream media outlets in an effort to get the facts out. Ashley Roth, communications manager for the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board, told SeafoodSource, “From the very beginning we were talking to 30 media outlets a day, and while it has tapered a little — it comes in waves depending on what’s happening with the situation — we’re talking with at least 10 outlets a day.” The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services echoed that sentiment. “[Media outlets] say they will certainly use the information and when they do a report they will make it clear that Florida’s seafood isn’t impacted. But you don’t know if they’re really going to do that,” Terry McElroy, the departmment’s communications director, told SeafoodSource.

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