Is the media over-covering the COVID pandemic?
Cable TV news — and CNN, in particular — have made such a habit of wall-to-wall, 24-7 coverage of a single news event they sometimes seem a parody of themselves.
When Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, CNN’s coverage was so extensive I remember a segment in which pundits at least half-seriously discussed the possibility extraterrestrials had picked up the plane.
When the cruise ship Costa Concordia tipped onto its side near Tuscany, the network showed hours of footage of nothing more than the camera fixed on the ship lying still in the water.
There is definitely such a thing as too much coverage.
This ain’t it.
There is no question The News’ pages have been filled with COVID-19 stories, about which a small minority of readers have called and emailed to complain. They’re tired of the virus and want to see some other news.
I get it.
I think our coverage of the effects of the coronavirus on Northeast Michigan has been second to none, and we have provided readers critical information they need to keep themselves safe.
But I’d certainly rather run stories about athletes succeeding on the field and about seniors earning their diplomas and for my reporters to return to award-winning, deep-dive stories on the most important local topics of the day.
But the coronavirus is a game-changer. Nothing since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 has changed the world more completely or quickly. Arguably, COVID-19 is an even bigger disrupter, with many moving parts, from the public health emergency to the economic emergency, from the science of the vaccine race to the debate over public safety versus personal freedom, to the politics of world powers working together or against each other.
And the virus has infected every aspect of everybody’s everyday life. The governments, businesses, schools, nonprofits, even the arts and entertainment we cover have all been changed by the virus, the precautions meant to prevent the virus’ spread, or the economic fallout of those precautions. If they haven’t been canceled or closed, their operations are completely different than they were at the beginning of March.
So it’s hard not to write about the virus. Even the Associated Press, the wire service we use to fill pages not dedicated to local news, has found all its beats infected. Nine out of every 10 stories that move on the wire are about the virus.
That’s one thing.
For another, newspapers have not been immune to the economic fallout. Fewer advertisers mean fewer reporters and fewer pages in which to put news. When you’re slim on resources, you must prioritize your efforts, and the coronavirus is still generating news on day-to-day and sometimes hour-to-hour basis. Besides the daily case and death counts, there’s news on vaccine development, economic stimulus efforts, the cancellation of major events, statehouse protests (which here have generated movement on a potential gun ban at the Capitol), state efforts to reopen the economy, and more.
That’s all news that readers need to know, and media outlets must dedicate their smaller crews to its coverage, leaving little time and space for much else.
Other news is happening, and we continue to cover it. Amid the pandemic, The News has carried stories on criminal trials, on local tax proposals and candidate lists, on Alpena Public Schools’ beginning efforts to remodel schools with bond money, on the ongoing shoreline damage caused by record-high Lake Huron waters, on awards earned by local athletes and an Alpena-native coach, even on a record-breaking local cold front. Our Lifestyles page continues to carry features on nonprofits giving, on art exhibits opening, on local marriages, engagements, and anniversaries, and more. We’ve even squeezed in some local golf results.
There will come a day when more of those things will fill our pages, when life will return and we’ll get to write the kinds of stories we want to write.
I long for it.
But, for the time being, the coronavirus is still writing our history, and it’s our job as newspapers to record that history.
Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.