Jim Duffy thinks that in the midst of the current pandemic journalists need to calm down and stop rushing their fences.
I like the media a lot, contribute to it occasionally, and respect many journalists. But like all professions it is flawed.
One of its major flaws is its tendency to get carried away with things. Journalist R reads what journalist S wrote in a newspaper or said on a bulletin, and tries to take the story on, and the momentum gets faster and faster - often based on the media losing the run of itself and covering something journalists have only a superficial knowledge of. (Saying they have a superficial knowledge of it isn't a criticism. By definition, in covering all of society, most issues that crop up will be outside their knowledge base and they will end up talking and writing about issues they don't actually know much about.)
That tendency for a journalistic frenzy to build up is one of the negative aspects of the media. I remember a very respected broadcaster, normally so calm, getting so carried away with a story that he literally roared a ludicrous question into the face of a candidate and "demanded" an answer to a question no-one could possibly answer.
After a period of calmness in covering Covid-19, elements of the media are in an increasingly frenzy in running wild with stories. A mis-informed media frenzy has been building on the issue of when will the lockdown "end", and how soon will a vaccine be available. To take the latter case first, the UK chief medical officer tried to impose a dose of realism into the media getting carried away by mythical vaccines. They report every successful testing of a potential vaccine in a lab as a "breakthrough". One US media outlet reported "vaccine found."
It was garbage. Just because something in a lab works is no indication that it will work outside it. The vast majority don't. Some do but have such horrendous side effects that it cannot possibly be used. It is quite possible that all the successful lab tests reported to date between them will not produce a single workable vaccine. Then there is the fact that every prototype vaccine found has to be tested to make sure it has no worse side effects. There is no point having a vaccine if its side effect, as with Trump's lunatic promotion of a drug, is to kill the patient by causing a heart attack, or triggers strokes, or raises blood pressure to dangerous levels, or causes epilepsy, or makes the patent susceptible to cancer!
Even when you finally have a vaccine that works and is safe, there then is the problem of mass manufacture. Billions of people will have to be vaccinated. Both the manufacture and the vaccination will take a long time. One expert was overheard after a press conference saying that the next journalist that asked him would vaccination be available by June was liable to have a paper cup of water thrown over them. Of course it fucking well won't. The expert guess is that a vaccine, If one is found, probably is 18 months or longer away.
But too many journalists still talk as if vaccines are just magicked up in a few weeks.
Then there is the lockdown. So much media coverage is based on the question "when will the lockdown end?" It is like asking 'How long is a piece of string?'. Others talk as if the lockdowns are going to be over in a couple of weeks. Even worse, they get carried away with easing of lockdowns in other countries - oblivious to the fact that different countries are at different points of the coronavirus journey.
Experts try to explain, with extraordinary patience, that the ending of the lockdowns will not occur in the foreseeable future. We may be in lockdowns a year from now. The experts try to explain that the lockdowns will be Eased, not ended, and are likely to be eased very, very slowly. We are not going to see 80% of the population going back to work. We may see 5%, and maybe another 5% a month later. Even then, every easing is temporary. If the reproduction number climbs above 1 in any country, then it is back into a lockdown to get it down again. Even if the lockdown is eased, bit by bit, the re-imposition of it will be on the cards well into the future, right down to the day when everyone has been vaccinated. Various Asian states that eased lockdowns initially had to re-impose them again. We could have an eased lockdown in May or June, and be back in it again in July, be eased out of it slightly in August and be back in it in September.
Journalists really do need to calm down their frenzy, and stop getting carried away with mythical impending vaccines and mythical complete ends to lockdowns soon. We are in this for the long haul. It may be a year or two before we are having a normal life again.
➽ Jim Duffy is a writer.