When it comes to disasters, Americans get the best returns.

Americans get a better buck for their bang, according to Mediablast. For its first ever Human Cost Index, the California-based think tank compared advertising revenue to violent deaths by nationality, and found Americans came out on top. The survey looked at print media in 36 developed countries, the amount of advertising revenue generated, and the column space devoted to deaths by bombings and natural disasters.

According to Mediablast’s CEO and founder, Faizal Sataranjan, most media outlets tended to devote more coverage to deaths of their own nationality, but across all countries American deaths “consistently held high value”. Averaged across all 36 countries, an American death corresponded to 6.8 million US dollars. British and Australian deaths also had high value, at 4.1 and 3.7 million dollars, respectively. Palestinian and Congolese deaths were the least valuable, at 160 and 14 dollars.   When adjusted to account for body weight, the gap between the most and least valuable nationalities narrowed only slightly.

One surprising result of the survey was that in Canadian newspapers American deaths correspond with almost twice as much advertising revenue as own-country deaths – 11.7 versus 6.3 million dollars. This is by far the largest gap between American and own-country value among all national media. Asked to explain this anomaly, Sataranjan replied that Canadians’ “openness to other cultures” was at first thought to be the cause. But he said that other data seemed to contradict this hypothesis. For example, in Canadian print media, the value of a Chinese death is a mere 214 dollars, or “just slightly higher than the value given a Chinese death in Japanese print media, which is 197 dollars”. “In any event,” he added, “their relatively low own-country valuation gives Canadian media a distinct economic advantage, as they can rely on reprints from US sources and ignore problems at home.”

Asked how the Human Cost Index might be used, Sataranjan suggested “something like a Media Corpse Trading Scheme”, whereby media companies in poor countries could displace coverage of local issues with “disasters relevant to Americans, Brits, and Australians” to generate more advertising revenue. “Evidently the disasters faced by these nationalities are of immense interest to people all over the world. Greater coverage might even have application to literacy initiatives – to get more people reading.”

Image credit: detail from work attributed to Marie-Anne08

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