Containing the ‘outbreak’

Jam of the week: “Light Powered” by Deastro

It seems like every year, we hear reports of some new disease. The reports jump out from the media incessantly and you begin to tune them out. By the time you’ve realized that you aren’t seeing news about it anymore, the whole episode leaves you wondering why it keeps playing on repeat.

That’s the critical view I’ve developed of disease reporting. I’ve not only watched bird flu, swine flu, and probably alligator flu by the time I’m done writing this column show up in the media, I’ve been a part of the circus myself. Back in college, I thought it was a good idea to often have updates about bird flu. At the time, I was swept up in the flurry of reporting and decided to talk about it at length on the radio.

Weeks passed, and we still had the updates. I finally found myself planning a show when I looked at the rundown and realized I didn’t care anymore. I had long ago crossed the line from being informative to being a broken record. I replaced the segment and didn’t touch on bird flu again.

It is with that mindset that I come in to now report on medical issues. Of course, just because some media outlets play up diseases far too much doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t report on something like cyclosporasis in Iowa, which according to The Gazette, now has seen 71 cases this year. The Gazette, located in Linn County, has talked about the disease at length because that county has seen 30 of those cases, more than any other county in Iowa.

Still, with several cases confirmed in Webster County just a short drive away, I felt reporting on the disease’s appearance was important. However, I feel it’s important to takes steps to downplay such a story in a way that it does not appear to be sensationalized. Do research, decide what’s most important, report the facts and get out.

That’s why I clarified my statement when I called the appearance of cyclospora an outbreak. The word itself conjures up strong images, perhaps stronger for those that have recently seen “World War Z.” Outbreak is up there with words like firestorm, aftermath and slain. Basically, I tend to think a word might be misleading if it sounds more appropriate in a Michael Bay movie than being said by someone wearing a suit and talking into a camera.

I feel it’s worth explaining my thought process on the matter, since it often feels like the media at large does not. I also realize it’s easy to simply decry the media overall and not discuss specific media sources. However, being continually critical of the state of the media is important for both journalists and consumers of news media because ideally, that criticism will improve the medium.

I don’t think there’s anyone out there who thinks the state of the media in the United States or worldwide is perfect. That being said, regardless of your thoughts on the media at large, I think we can all agree that trying to better it is a good idea. Whether you’re reading a story about a rare disease, listening to a story about how caffiene can kill you, or watching a story about how caffiene is good for you, take a moment to step back and think about the information being given to you.