Tuesday, May 5, 2009

News fatigue

Is it any wonder people are sick of us? Journalists, that is. We regularly come at the top of lists of the least-trusted professions, and people have taken to switching their TV channel the minute the news comes on, lest they hear more doom and gloom.

An interesting trend has emerged over the past few months. ABE syndrome, it’s called; Anything But the Economy. Journalists are prepared to cover almost anything to avoid writing (or talking, or filming) about anything to do with the economy and the sorry state we find ourselves in.

One national paper went so far as to print a photo of a football-playing dog on its front page during January, purely to lift the gloom. And we can hardly blame them.

When news is your bread and butter, and your passion, it’s very hard to acknowledge that news fatigue has hit. That you, too, like almost every rational person in the country, hits the off button the minute poor George Lee appears on the TV or Brian Cowen speaks on the radio.

When you have lived your life online, constantly checking news sites for updates and needing, craving the newspaper every morning, news fatigue hits as rather a shock.

So, when something happened last week to distract from the economy – although it was equally negative and underlined the sense of doom pervading media at the moment – it was leapt on by journalists across the world.

Swine flu. What can’t it do? Never mind that we have been assured by the HSE that swine flu hasn’t reached Ireland yet. Never mind that we have been stockpiling anti-viral drugs for years (since the avian flu epidemic that never was) and never mind that we are an island nation and thus probably the easiest to protect from the point of view of quarantine.

This could be serious!

TV images of masks being handed out on the street in Mexico City (one of the poorest and most densely populated places in the world) gave a thrilling sense of an emergency that, for once, had absolutely nothing to do with the credit crunch or the economy or unemployment or, God help him, Brian Cowen.

True - if it does come here, swine flu could affect a lot of people, although it does not appear to be spreading as quickly as initially thought. It could create a lot of sick days and thus another burden for the (sorry, here’s that word again) economy.

True – like other strains of the flu, swine flu could develop into pneumonia in the particularly vulnerable. Elderly people, young children and those with weakened immune systems should all be monitored especially carefully.

But this holds true for these groups at this time of year every year – when ordinary, seasonal flu, kills people whose systems are not equipped to fight the onset of pneumonia.

Unfortunately, while the economy remains the only other show in town, we are going to sit through months of coverage of a “global pandemic” that might never happen, while ignoring the one that has already affected most of us; ABE syndrome.

1 comment:

  1. More locally, there's also the Volvo Ocean Race, which seems to have transfixed elements of the business and political communities like the second coming would. There's a parallel to be drawn about moving on top of the water, but I won't go near it.

    That dog had the right idea.