News reporting is feeding national anxiety
Earlier this week, I contacted a friend for a chat about something or other, however, when she answered the phone I could tell immediately she was unusually withdrawn - she told me she had woken up feeling anxious and tearful. We talked for over an hour and thankfully, after her ‘wobble’ as she described it, she is back to her usual self. However, during our discussion, she said it was a newspaper headline that had fed into her fear and anxiety and basically tipped her over the edge.
In my PR lecturer role I have been discussing press coverage of the crisis with my students. Most of you probably read one newspaper, we looked at many of them over the past few weeks - and we agreed that headlines, content and imagery were alarmist.
Friday 20 March and a cursory glance of headlines reveal ‘city is engulfed’, ‘it’s spreading’ and ‘gasping for breath on apocalypse ward.’ Now the news underneath the headlines may be factually true but is the language used by the print press irresponsible and adding to our national anxiety?
The broadcast media, while initially also adopting the same ‘we’ll all been doomed’ approach is now tempering its reporting with positive and hopeful stories as well as the not so hopeful ones. They, are at least trying to be balanced.
Instead of images of stripped supermarket shelves what about images of a fully stocked distribution centre? Instead of patients gasping for air, where are the images and stories of the numerous people who have survived the virus?
Having worked in a newsroom for many years I remember invigorated my colleagues were when they had a disaster or crisis to get their teeth into and there is nothing quite like it to get their journalistic blood flowing. Nevertheless I think it’s time for them to take a step back and consider how this daily barrage of negativity is impacting on our national psyche.
This morning a colleague told me he couldn’t stop crying last night, while a neighbour’s 10-year old son has become withdrawn due to fears about his parents dying and leaving him alone. There is no doubt that at some point every single one of us will have 'a wobble' but for the moment, I am going to avoid reading the news to keep my wobble at bay.
Even under normal circumstances ‘headline press anxiety’ causes worry and helplessness which is why the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has urged media to report responsibly and avoid creating any unjustified panic that could worsen the situation.
You know my thoughts, what about yours?