Lately, much has been pontificated online about media hyperbole surrounding the Swine Flu. I offer something of an apologia for the current state of affairs here. Mainly, the issue stems from “the public’s” inability to pay attention to anything without an immense headline. Well, unless it has to do with a celebrity’s underwear habits, but I digress. My frustration for this element of society goes deep.
Television news focuses on the shallow, sound-bite, executive summary. Brief, quick, gone. It amazes me, to this day, that so many people use this as their primary information source. So quick, vacant and empty, full of alarmist notions and language. You see this, however, within print as well. Particularly, headlines. Most of them are barely connected with a story’s content. And many people don’t read a story past the headline.
Long ago, I gave up on this as a source of information. NPR took on a piece of it, as I have often had some commute time. My preferred source, for the longest time, was print. In my heyday I would read the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Seattle Times daily. Now, with the web, my information comes from a variety of sources. Ironically, the above are still part of my routine, just intermixed with others.
With this, I think the growth of the internet has been grand. It’s best to head to, say, the CDC for information versus Faux, er, Fox news. Plus, the ability to comment on stories, whether on your own blog or in the comments section, helps ensure balance. Yet, I wonder, if perhaps the abundance of information makes the natural inclination worse.
Government tries to navigate this fine line. Get information out, accurate and action oriented. However, people don’t tend to pay attention unless there’s doom in the language. Add to that, though, that people have a sort attention span. If the doom/gloom fails to materialize quickly, the mind will turn to vapor. Play the alarmist card with caution!
As internet access to continues to grow, and understanding of its use grows as well, I hope to see a decrease in these alarmist events. That we become better consumers of information, and better able to focus our efforts effectively.
UPDATE: My local paper, The Everett Herald has a decent piece on this.