Volume 96, Issue 7
Tuesday, September 10, 2002
Good Guys

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Media madness

Many people may recall the reports from a few years ago when swarms of Africanized honey bees were migrating their way north from Mexico, killing people as they spread and slowly adapting to the colder weather.

Some may remember the meningitis scare in London two years ago, Mad Cow disease the year before, or the worry over Ebola after Outbreak hit the theatres. If Dustin Hoffman ruined 1995 for hypochondriacs, then many might blame mosquitoes for the trauma in the summer of 2002.

As if West Nile virus had not already dominated the news for most of the summer, last Friday it was reported that mosquitoes in the London area had tested positive for the virus. But, if the thought of West Nile virus scares you, the mosquitoes are not the ones to blame.

Blame the media.

It is not necessarily a case of journalists' morbid enjoyment of anything and everything tragic, or a wish to spread fear and panic through sensationalist reporting. Somewhere along the line, however, the honest desire to inform people becomes excessive.

The journalist is truly a pack animal, and excessive reporting – no matter how accurate in terms of fact – can end up misleading the public.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that West Nile is new to North America. The experts, in this case public health officials, want to warn the public.

The media then latches on to the story of a brand new virus spreading across the continent – which is exactly how the story is framed, leading to day-by-day tracking of the "epidemic."

Unfortunately, this is what makes the reporting sensationalist. The sheer volume of reporting then leads the average person to spend a lot more time thinking about West Nile virus (a disease he or she is very unlikely to get) than he or she otherwise would.

Excessive reporting inundates the audience with daily reports on a particular topic, making people think instances of West Nile virus or attacking bee swarms are much more prevalent than they really are.

Even The Gazette is by no means immune to this affliction. Many readers may recall the indecent exposure epic Western witnessed last year when a naked man was spotted a handful of times on campus and The Gazette may have been guilty of over dramatizing the events.

Of course, those Africanized honey bees are long overdue – they were supposed to have reached Canada years ago – and fewer people saw the naked guy with the bag on his head than bought the last Aaron Carter album.

Another news media failing is the sudden irrelevancy of these issues as soon as something new comes along. It can be said the media is even more fickle than its audience. There is likely nothing that will end the cycle of sensationalism in the world of media – it is just too entrenched.

Perhaps what is most important is that the audience knows better than to fall for the hype.






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