by Michael Boyink/[email protected]
“People are only afraid of COVID-19 because the media can’t stop talking about it.”
“There’s a pandemic in Douglas County and the Herald doesn’t have any news about it.”
Both expressed to me recently.
They’re on the same spectrum.
But at opposite ends.
Truth, however, is rarely found at the extremes.
When COVID-19 first struck, I felt like the Herald was turning into “all COVID all the time” publication.
We compiled lists of cancellations, closures, and delays. We wrote about the school year getting cut short. We ran stories about how to prevent the virus from spreading. Stories about what to do if you were exposed. Stories about what college campuses were doing. What our local schools were planning to do.
Then, after many weeks of waiting for the other shoe to drop, Douglas County finally started getting cases of people testing positive for COVID-19. We started publishing the number of them each week (unless I happen to forget).
The number of positive cases is high enough now that if you weren’t one of them, you probably know someone who was.
MsBoyink and I do. We have been at events where many attendees were exposed. Others caught the virus. We have not.
As COVID-19 persists in our world and becomes a part of the “norm”, our coverage of it in the Herald has dropped.
Life does, after all, go on.
And I’m happy about that.
Don’t misunderstand me.
I’m not being cavalier.
I’ve seen how friends are affected. Recovery is slow. Hospital stays were sometimes necessary.
I see how the schools are affected. I feel parent frustrations when kids are in class one week and doing virtual classes at home the next. I know the loss of a sports season would be a huge loss for a student athlete.
I see how local culture is affected. The Pioneer Festival canceled. Hootin an Hollarin’ canceled. The Glade Top Run delayed.
I see how business is affected. Reduced hours. Product delays or unavailability. Increased prices.
There’s no doubt. COVID-19 has impacted our world in a way most of us have never experienced before.
But let’s look at the numbers.
According to the Douglas County Health Department, we’ve had three deaths attributed to COVID-19. Using the 2019 Census Bureau population estimates, that’s a fatality rate of .02%.
At the state level, Missouri reports 1658 COVID-related deaths. That works out to approximately the same fatality rate of .03%.
If I used medical statistics to determine editorial policy, I’d be publishing more stories about heart disease. It claims approximately 15,000 Missourians each year for a fatality rate of .24%.
Or more stories about cancer. The American Cancer Society expects 13,000 cancer-related deaths in Missouri in 2020 – a fatality rate of .2%.
It’s an editor’s dilemma.
No matter how much I do or don’t cover the COVID-19 situation, someone isn’t going to be happy.
I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.
And there’s no specific answer.
So my general answer is, I’ll cover COVID-19 when it makes sense to.
But, I prefer to focus the content of the Herald on the life we do have, rather than be obsessed with what we don’t.
And for those weeks when our coverage doesn’t meet your expectations one way or another?
I’m going to push back on you a bit.
If you think the media is creating fear by obsessing about COVID-19, turn the TV off. Put your smartphone down. Skip to the next page of the paper.
You have that control.
And if you think we aren’t talking about it enough? Pick up the phone and call the health department. Do some Google searches. Buy an additional newspaper. Watch the local TV news. Talk to a neighbor who has recovered from it.
You have that ability.