This has been long overdue, but I wanted to wait until things calmed down a little bit. Prior to explaining this, I should probably note that I have a really cynical view of the media. I understand that the industry is facing incredible challenges, including staying effective in a 24/7 news cycle, but what’s happened over the past few weeks has been nothing short of ridiculous.
As part of one of my projects at work, I’ve been monitoring coverage of the swine flu/H1N1 (nice rebranding effort … should have thought about that earlier). To be blatantly honest, I’ve been shocked, disgusted and stunned by what the media (and, to be honest, the CDC … but isn’t that kind of their job?) did with what was nothing more than a strain of influenza … an influenza that was actually less dangerous than the ones we normally see during flu seasons.
As my friend said to me on Facebook, “everybody loves a good panic.” While she’s right, I think the media was irresponsible. Instead of presenting factual information in a non-inflammatory way, articles and news segments were built on fearmongering “keep your children at home.” In fact, the WHO was quoted as saying that this flu threatened all of humanity, blah blah blah. We now know (as do they) that these quotes were a crock of shit.
Just a couple weeks ago, it came out that really, the only people who truly needed to worry about H1N1 were people with pre-existing health problems, small children, pregnant women and the elderly … anyone with a comprimised immune system. (I think doctors finally started speaking up because they were so annoyed with the hypochondriacs clogging their waiting rooms.) So, pretty much the same thing with every flu season. The pictures of people with masks, stores being out of stock of Purell hand sanitizer … just needless fearmongering.
I don’t blame people for pulling their kids out of school (which, I also think is a mistake, but I’m not a parent, so I can’t quite talk). From the news coverage, it looked like Ebola Zaire was destroying our country. This flu really wasn’t any different from the others that hit our country all the time. If you get sick, stay home so you can rest and your body can heal itself … and you don’t infect anyone else.
I think part of the problem is that in a time where media (especially newspapers) is fighting tooth and nail for readers, subscribers and viewers, they feel they have to one-up their competition somehow. With all the outlets out there (especially free outlets), why would someone be loyal to just one? Additionally, the demand for fresh news 24/7 (because the cycle goes on no matter what) creates the perfect storm for over-coverage, over-analyzing, etc. I suppose it comes down to the fact that no outlet wants the public to think that it isn’t covering an issue, or isn’t covering it as thoroughly as a competitor. Hence, the oversaturation. Also, my friend was right. For whatever reason, people love a good panic — and if a panic is what people are looking for, who is the media to deny them?