Thursday, April 30, 2009

RANT: Don't panic; sometimes there are slow days in the news room

Coming from a career in journalism, I understand how newspapers and broadcast media work fairly well. So if you're not familiar with how the media work and you're starting feel a little "freak outish" about the Swine Flu, please read on.

The news media must latch on to the important stories in order to remain relevant. The Swine Flu story is an important story. And the media will report about it extensively and excessively. Not only is the Swine Flu a story that sells, so to speak, it's also a story that almost writes itself. All of the news outlets are overflowing right now with press releases about the Swine flu from local health departments, the Center of Disease Control and state and city health; this makes it easy to write a new story about the this strain of flu several times a day, which in turn keeps you reading about the Swine Flu and watching newscasts about it virtually every time you check your e-mail or watch TV.

OK, that being said, I think it's important to share something I learned in my journalism classes:
People will think something is really important the more they are confronted with it. The more you hear about the Swine Flu, the more you'll let it affect your life. I think knowledge is good, but I also think you need to check your sources and read beyond the headlines. If you don't, you're going to freak out about this when you don't need to be freaking out; you really only need to understand it and take necessary precautions.

While the news media play an important role in getting the word out on a mass level, which will help people to protect themselves to a greater extent, sometimes the media sensationalize simply by reporting about something extremely frequently. When the media report on something quite frequently, it plays on fears instead of doing what it is actually supposed to do: inform. So let me help you break it down from the perspective of a journalist who understands how media work. Please note that this information is what I've gathered from reputable news media that interview credible sources.

*First, the regular flu kills 36 thousand Americans every year. This Swine Flu, as officials have observed so far, will be no different; it will cause deaths, but people will also get it and recover.

*One doctor who was interviewed on a local news station here in Chicago explained it well when he said that this flu is not a tiger who has sharper teeth than any other tiger we've come across during the normal flu season.

*The best thing you can do is wash your hands frequently and try not to touch your face. This is true during regular cold and flu season, too. The toddler and I are pretty avid hand washers anyway, so we've just stepped it up since this flu is happening after normal cold and flu season. Because honestly, I don't want the Swine Flu any more than I wanted any other strain of flu.

*Also important in fighting any virus, it's important to get enough sleep and eat more fruits and vegetables. When your body is rested, you are able to fight off disease better. When you eat fruits and vegetables, your body has the necessary nutrients and minerals it needs to support a healthy immune system. Sugar also weakens your defenses, so limit sugary, junk food items in your daily diet.

*And you've heard it a million times, but it's so true. When you are sick, stay home. Rest, recover and keep it to yourself. Your body cannot kick a virus without extra rest and care, so pushing yourself to go to work or to the store or whatever, isn't doing you any favors and it isn't doing any favors for the people who don't want to share in your illness.

*When you watch the news or read news stories, please understand that you must really read past the first few paragraphs to get more of the story. If you read the first paragraph or two only, you will only get the "meat" of the story -- essentially the news the rest of the story will be built upon. But the following paragraphs also state important, supportive information that builds the rest of the story. For example, I read a story that went something like this:

"The World Health Organization raised the alert level to the second highest level ..."

That was the newest news on the Swine Flu story, so that was the lead and it was reported first. Now if you stopped there, you would think -- Oh, my gosh. They raised the alert level; now this is a pandemic (which only really means that it has spread across the world, not that it is more deadly or whatever) and that everyone is going to catch it and die.


But if you read on, you will find that officials now are saying that only eight of the deaths so far have actually been confimred as caused by the Swine Flu ... not the 150-some the media originally reported. Now that is important. And if I were writing the story, I would have led with that ... but sometimes journalists lead with what is stated first on a press release. Sorry about that. All of us journalists have been guilty of doing that ... so you have to remember that journalists are imperfect reporters who sometimes miss the mark on the more important part of the story. And we should know better because we have been taught that people only read the first few paragraphs, but it happens.

Sorry if I've bored your pants off; I'm a bit of a media junkie, and I analyze news stories and broadcasts like its my life's passion. Sad, a little. Beneficial, well, you tell me. Has reading this little rant helped you better understand the Swine Flu news coverage?


  1. How sensible. I've sent a link to your blog onto a list I'm on which has several worried people on it!

  2. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you again :)

  3. Hy, I really appreciate your post. It's great to have an insider's (journalist's)perspective. Thank you!

    By the way, I love your blog.

  4. I'll second that message. Not saying my germ-a-phobic tendancies aren't rearing their ugly heads, but there's no reason to panic.

  5. Seeing as how I'm not sensible (as much as I try) I've posted a response, of sorts, and linked up to your wisdom.


There's nothing better than good conversation ... but not while talking to myself. Will you play a part in this discussion?

AND will you pretty please have your email linked to your account or leave it for me so I can respond?

Thanks for taking the time to make these thoughts into conversation.