Re: the Press Herald’s March 17 editorial (“Our View: Action needed to slow virus’ rapid spread”), in which the Editorial Board bemoans the fact that some are not taking the coronavirus threat seriously:

Conspicuously absent was any mention of the mainstream media’s own culpability in this matter.

In today’s world, virtually any story of moderate importance is depicted as an unfathomable disaster. Words like “crisis,” “tragedy” and “scandal” are breathlessly used to describe every situation. The vast majority of these stories will fade from the collective consciousness within a week. Meanwhile, behavioral science tells us that subjects will become indifferent toward safety warnings if they are issued with too much frequency (Google “alarm fatigue”). Given these circumstances, is it any wonder that some were slow to react as U.S. coronavirus rates began to spike?

Obviously, this is not a new issue. Bad news fatigue in some form is as old as journalism itself. But the internet and the cellphone have conspired to increase the effects exponentially. Personally, I don’t know what the solution might be. Maybe we need to issue a warning sticker with every news story – kind of like the DEFCON warnings used by the U.S. military – with DEFCON 1 reserved for truly momentous events like 9/11 or the coronavirus. I’m joking, of course – but you get my point.

What I do know is that the press can’t have it both ways: They can’t castigate people for not taking 1 percent of the news seriously enough when they are trivializing the other 99 percent with their own actions.

Patrick Moening


Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: