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  • Writer's pictureDark Horse PR

Lessons learned from the media during the Coronavirus

Each new year brings with it a sense of possibility, promise and empowerment. However, this new year seems to be on a mission to eclipse any grievances we might've had with 2019, and it's only March.

The Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has taken the world by storm, quite literally. Recently classified as a global pandemic, public health agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been working day and night to not only coordinate a response, but to also deliver the most up-to-date information to the masses via major media outlets.

Currently, the media landscape is over-saturated with nothing but Coronavirus coverage. As folks prepare to quarantine their families and practice the recommended "social distancing" tactic in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, many are experiencing the pressure cooker effect. With grocery stores swept clean of the most basic essentials and hospitals feeling the overwhelm, it's clear that the fear has set in.

The public has a right to be informed of the most crucial information, and the media has a responsibility to deliver it, right? Right. Still, we have to recognize the need for balance in situation like this. The Coronavirus has literally become a meme, which means it might be safe to say that we've over-shot the target. At some point, the bubble will pop, and you just have to try and lighten the mood; hence the memes.

That said, this can also be an indication that the public has reached its limit in regards to the amount of coverage we're willing to consume. Naturally, once the news cycle has passed its expiration date, we can feel the need to over-correct in the other direction; turning folks away from consuming coverage all together. This over-saturation by major media outlets poses a new set of risks, the most potent being that it primes the public for a more lax approach to the news being delivered.

If nothing else, the Coronavirus has forced us to take a look at how we handle a crisis. There have definitely been some revelations and hard lessons learned.


what do you need to know?

The media absolutely has a responsibility to deliver the most crucial, up-to-date information to the public. However, it's important to keep the politics to a minimum. It's no secret that major media outlets and big name news networks tend to lean one way or the other politically. Couple that with the fact that public health is very much managed by government agencies, and you have the perfect storm.

Unfortunately, this means that Coronavirus coverage will likely come with a side of political interference no matter what. From how the government is handling things, to what the President said during a press conference, to how foreign nationals are responding - the situation is primed for scrutiny.

What to consider:

This type of politically aligned coverage not only strains tensions which are already running high, but it also mismanages the delivery of vital information. In recent weeks, you've likely seen an entire nightly news hour dedicated to Coronavirus coverage, possibly followed by a "LIVE Town Hall" on that network's Facebook page - and that's only the nightly news. That's at least two hours dedicated to covering nothing but the Coronavirus. Does the public really need two hours to ingest "need to know" updates; the facts and figures necessary to keep their family safe? No.

Additionally, we're also at a high risk of spreading and consuming misinformation. Remember that time President Trump claimed the Coronavirus was a hoax conjured up by the Democrats? Yeah like that. At times like this, there is a slew of misinformation out there, especially during the early stages of a crisis. From incorrect stats to viral videos of celebrities delivering ill-informed updates, there is no shortage of false information.

What you can do to cut the crap:

  • Find a non-partisan news outlet you can trust like, The Associated Press or Reuters, both of which have a long-standing commitment to delivering unbiased, clean and concise coverage.

  • Manage how and when you check for updates. Head to one of these websites just once or twice a day to get your updates, and set a timer on your phone for 10 minutes. When the 10 minutes is up, CLOSE THE TAB.

  • Choose to turn off the nightly news, at least for the time being.

  • Look for the facts. yes, the Coronavirus stats are scary, but are they the worst we've ever seen? No. Stay vigilant to the facts rather than just consuming headlines.

Sensationalism and mental health

It's important to remain mindful about the news we consume. At the end of the day, the media is still very much a business, and in order for that business to do well, the news outlet must maintain ratings. If we think of ratings as a form of currency, then of course, every outlet wants the highest ratings.

You may have noticed how the nightly news hour can be filled with the most horrible, gut-wrenching news, yet at the end of each segment we're reminded to stick around for the story of a dog who found his way home after being abandoned. So, you sit it out for the entire hour, only to have the last 30 seconds be about how Scruffy somehow found his way home and was reunited with his family after a hurricane had come through and whisked him away. That's 30 SECONDS out of an hour-long emotional rollercoaster.

There's a reason for that, and without getting too deep, the basic psychology behind it is this: break them down, then send them off on a high note.

Like it or not, psychology actually plays a vital role in the media landscape, and it's at the root of all sensationalism. Sensationalism is a tactic used to excite the masses. Unfortunately, this type of reporting can veer towards the unethical at times. At the very least, it is definitely a proponent of fear-mongering.

The very fact that people are having a hard time accessing toilet paper right now, a once all too common household item, is proof that sensationalistic reporting drives fear. Those who chose not to panic early on, are now left without basic essentials because those who drank the kool-aid have already snatched it all up.

How to be mindful of your mental health:

  • Pay attention to the verbiage being used to deliver the news you consume. If it sounds drastic, dramatic and dire, it's likely a sensationalistic headline.

  • Along with opting for an unbiased outlet, take stock of how much news you're consuming. Remove notifications from your phone, and opt out of any news-y email newsletters in order to limit the amount of pop-ups vying for your attention.

  • Take time each day to be grateful - grateful that you have your health, grateful that you still have a job..the list goes on. The truth is, we have even more to be grateful for when times seem the toughest.

  • Think about how the news and media makes you feel. When watching the news, or even reading an article, does it make you feel good, or do you find yourself feeling anxious? If it's the latter of the two, then change that. The moment you become aware of the anxiousness, make it a point to switch to something more light-hearted. Sometimes, it's as simple as looking up funny Ellen clips on YouTube.

The final lesson learned

The most important thing to remember, is that during times like this, there is still opportunity - we just have to be open to it. For example, the idea of being quarantined with your family doesn't have to be dreadful or scary. Take this time as an opportunity to clean out your closet, clean your computer and cell phone, purge what you need to. Maybe even meditate or vision board. It's a great time to tackle tasks that have been put on the back burner for far too long.

While it's important to take care of ourselves during this time, it's also imperative that we take care of each other. This means, checking on your elderly neighbors, and not buying up all the supplies at the grocery store like you're heading into an underground bunker for the next three months. Be sure to leave enough for other folks who may need them.

And if nothing else, as this thing starts to take a turn, hopefully we have learned a few lessons in terms of how we handle a crisis, not just as a country, but as a planet. We're beginning to see people coming together, and taking care of one another, and that's a beautiful thing. It'd be great to see the major media outlets reporting on more of that from time to time.


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