The coronavirus pandemic is a fact. It is also news.
The difference between facts and “the news” is that facts don’t always become news, not because those facts aren’t consequential but because the news is by its very nature entertaining.
We demand a steady feed of novelty and stimulation from the news.
There are facts that are significant but not necessarily reported. For example, look at all the news that was reported before COVID-19 replaced it. Where did it go?
While COVID-19 rightfully overrides everything else, it puts consumers who see “the news” as entertainment in the position of comparing the life-threatening fact of COVID-19 with all the news that has gone before. Is it more of the same?
On slow-news days, inconsequential facts make the news. Politicians cut ribbons and produce news releases. Reporters and pundits create another layer of news further removed from the facts by analyzing what the politicians say and do. The news is a business that must be produced every day, hour and minute. It’s about the careers of politicians, journalists and columnists.
The news industry offers a sensational diet of unsettling events because we demand it. Media theorist and cultural critic Neil Postman says:
“That is why even on news shows which provide us daily with fragments of tragedy and barbarism, we are urged by the newscasters to ‘join them tomorrow.’ What for? One would think that several minutes of murder and mayhem would suffice as material for a month of sleepless nights. We accept the newscasters’ invitation because we know that the ‘news’ is not to be taken seriously, that it is all in fun, so to say.”
Opinion is becoming the nature of the news as opposed to facts. This gives the impression that all news is opinion. If we are told to stay home to stop the pandemic, that’s just one opinion. In balanced reporting, the opposite opinion is valid: go out and enjoy the lovely spring weather.
Opinions shouldn’t be confused with facts. What I write is part of the news industry but I don’t pretend that it’s a balanced presentation of the facts. I’m trying to make a point.
What makes news about the coronavirus so jarring is that it is not the murder and mayhem of the usual variety but an existential threat. I could catch it and die.
And what about those who see the news as opinion, interpretation of facts, or infotainment? What are they to make of the news? Possibly this:
Like all news it’s meant for my amusement, of no consequence. I’m not sick and no one I know is. I’ll carry on as usual because everyone knows that the news is sensational and overblown.
As for me, I’ll hunker down in self isolation after arriving back from Mexico. After that I’ll socially distance myself. I’ll go for an occasional walk in the hills of Westsyde where I won’t encounter anyone.
As for you, I suggest the same. But that’s just my opinion. For the facts, turn to reliable news sources. Your life could depend on it.