Coronavirus as news

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.

Image: Daily Express

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.

Coronavirus tests Canada’s character

Canadians are seen as “nice” people, sensible, proud of Canada but not jingoistic, modest, not fanatically religious. The way we respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic will further define who we are.

Nice Canadian

The response to the pandemic in the U.S. has been politicized, similar to the response to climate change, with President Trump initially calling COVID-19 a hoax cooked up by his political opponents. Apparently some Republicans are following Trump’s initial lead and not socially isolating themselves by going to bars.

Canada can be an oasis of calm amid the global coronavirus freak-out. Political leaders can instil a sense of calm and confidence. One of those is Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer. She has become the face of Canada’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Canadians are rising to the challenge of a worsening novel coronavirus outbreak, going out of their way to be kind. Jason Dudas of Kamloops posted on Facebook:

“A co-worker told me about an elderly woman collapsing at a North Shore grocery store this weekend. If you are in a lower risk group and can help out elderly people you know with shopping you will be helping with keeping them safe at home, using extra sanitary precautions around them. If high risk groups don’t change their behaviour we will have a serious run on our health care system. But if we all work together then can make it through this situation.”

Kyle Ashley in Toronto posted a sign in the lobby of his downtown building offering to provide whatever assistance he could. “It’s like a war,” Ashley said, referring to the pandemic. “We will have bad actors, but good will come out.”

I have just returned from Mexico and will to self-isolate for two weeks. Neighbours have offered to buy groceries for me. It’s going to be tough to cut off contact with others, not going for coffee or to meetings at the society where I volunteer.  Social isolation is important, especially for travelers returning to Canada who have gone through busy airports. It’s voluntary but it’s the right thing to do; the only way to “flatten the curve” and slow down the spread which could potentially affect more than half of Canadians.

This isn’t panic, it’s just good citizenship under adverse social conditions.

Universal healthcare defines how we care for each other. Healthcare puts the common good above that of individual desire. Responsible Canadians will weigh what they individually want and what is in the public good. Canadian professor of philosophy Mark Gerald Kingwell says:

“Politics is a series of bargains between individual desire and collective good. What always remains is the goal of robust public trust. Community health is a shared good, just like education, transit infrastructure and building standards. It’s a concept that people against vaccines, flu-shot refuseniks, and turnstile jumpers everywhere just don’t seem to grasp (Goble and Mail, March 12, 2020).”

Herd mentality is not in the common good. Canadian’s response to COVID-19 will demonstrate our steely resolve in the face of adversity. We can hold our heads high with pride in the measures we take to stop the spread of this pandemic.