Titled “Mountains Out of Molehills: A timeline of global media scare stories,” McCandless illustrates some media coverage imbalance on threats that did not materialize into high fatalities.
From this, you could conclude that this is bad hype – in the interest of higher ratings, the media stokes public fears and sensationalizes uncertainty. You may be right.
Alternatively, you could conclude that this is good hype.
The media may be doing its part to raise public consciousness on these threats, which prompts the public to take greater precautions. Without that hype, who knows the results? The public may not avoid as many wasp nests, or take as many travel/health precautions. Consequently those fatality figures could be higher.
For years, Peter Sandman has been extolling the benefits of precaution advocacy (high hazard, low outrage), where the communication goal is to raise concerns and prompt precaution. I suppose in hindsight, some may question whether SARS, bird flu or H1N1 were truly “high hazard” situations. We may never know for sure, or to what extent, thanks to good hype.
I often shake my head at media sensationalism when its guile is intended only for ratings, or to benefit specific individuals or specific causes. But when highlighting risks leads to greater public precautions I give the media a pass, no matter the full underlying intentions.
What are your thoughts? Share them below.
Side note: Tomorrow represents my 17th anniversary at Ketchum and, coincidentally, my first anniversary of this blog. I plan on celebrating both with a glass of wine.
Jan. 19 Update: Perhaps greater precaution advocacy is required in matters of bedbugs. According to this report in The Wall Street Journal (sub. required), 54% of respondents have not changed their behavior to avoid the pests, despite high awareness of the problem.