NASA Culture: Oblivious to How the Media Works in the Real World?

29 April 2003: Where Have All the Media Gone?: JWST Announcement Eclipsed by Anniversary of 9/11 (PDF), The Critical Path, Fall 2002, NASA GSFC

"For the hundreds of people who devoted 7 years of their professional lives creating a follow-on mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, September 10, 2002 was bittersweet. After months of review, NASA finally announced that TRW had won the coveted prime contract ... But, as with most everything in life, timing is everything. The long-anticipated announcement suffered the misfortune of falling right in the midst of the first anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. "We didn't even make the CNN crawler," recalls JWST Project Manager Bernie Seery (443), referring to the headlines that scroll across the bottom of the screen during a CNN broadcast."

"Finally, it didn't help matters either that at the very time of the JWST announcement, 72-year old Buzz Aldrin allegedly punched a 37-year old man in the face after he asked Aldrin to swear on a Bible that he had been to the moon. Somehow, media coverage of that non-event took precedence over the JWST announcement."

Editor's rant: I cannot think of a better example that demonstrates how people steeped in the "NASA culture" fail to understand how the real world works. Of course the 9-11 anniversary is going to crowd other news out. DUH! Perhaps waiting a few more days to make an announcement would have been prudent. And of course the Buzz Aldrin story was sexier than news about some new space gizmo. Its human nature!! The real world often operates in a way other than those steeped in NASA think would expect it to. This really doesn't have to do with NASA PAO. It does have to do with the 'head in the sand' mindset that so many people who work at NASA adopt.

Rank and file employees at NASA moan and whine about how the general public doesn't pay attention to what they do, but these NASA folks won't devote two brain cells toward trying to place what it is they do in the context of how the real world actually works. Until this aspect of the "NASA culture" gets a swift kick in the pants, a lot of the cool stuff NASA does is just going to get ignored.

Expecting people (media or the public) to pay attention to everything NASA does simply because NASA tells them it is important - and to expect this to happen the expense of things that are actually more important (or just more darned interesting) is naive in the extreme.


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