April 27, 2009
Originally posted by Dean Wright to the Full Disclosure Reuters Blog.
There’s nothing like a disease outbreak to highlight the value of the media in alerting and informing the public in the face of an emergency.
There’s also nothing like it to bring out some of our more excessive behavior, essentially shouting “Run for your lives! (but, whatever you do, stay tuned, keep reading the website and don’t forget to buy the paper!).”
An outbreak of swine flu, which has killed scores in Mexico and infected others in the United States, Canada, Europe and New Zealand, is already having an effect on markets and travel plans, in addition to the obvious impact on public health.
The impact on markets could become more significant in time, but the impact on the media was practically immediate.
Cable television programmers went into crisis mode and a look at newspaper front pages and website home pages around the world showed a range of responses, from the almost hysterical to the concerned and more measured.
* In the New York Daily News: “SWINE FLU SPREADS!” (though it was played below a sports story on the New York Yankees losing to the Boston Red Sox).
* In the New York Post: “HOG WILD!” (also playing second to the Yankees’ humiliation, but illustrated with a pig sucking on a thermometer).
Big, bad-news stories can mean surges in audiences for media outlets and they certainly raise the adrenalin level of editors and reporters. They offer the temptation to go to excess, but they also offer the opportunity for us be of priceless service to our customers, clients and readers.
The question for me is how we in the media make sure we report accurately and informatively on the story and its impact on the markets and consumers’ lives without minimizing and without sensationalizing it.
“This is the type of story where our goal to stay factual and keep perspective is essential to uphold,” says Reuters Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger. “Our role is neither to trivialize nor to hype or scaremonger, but to describe accurately what is happening and put its implications in context.”
The swine flu story is still in its early stages and it remains to be seen if this becomes one of the biggest stories of our time. Whatever happens, it won’t hurt us all to take a deep breath now.