How to hide the story in a headline? – Opinion pandemic coverage

courier mail pandemic coverage
Letter to the Editor of the Courier Mail - The real story is that two thirds less people are ending up in ICU since the height of the pandemic (see the standfirst under the headline) but this good news is buried amongst the scare stories.

I wrote this letter to Chris Jones, editor of the Queensland Courier Mail after viewing the 19th July edition with a front page headline “COVID RECORD” for a report taking up two pages inside. The real story is that two thirds less people are ending up in ICU, compared to admissions at the height of the pandemic, but this good news is buried amongst the scare stories. Mainstream news outlets still wield considerable influence, which has an impact on business & individual confidence to get out meet again. As someone said to me, you don’t just wake up one day and a pandemic has ended – it takes time and effort to rebuild healthy social habits and confidence. Perhaps this is the moment in our industry’s recovery to individually and collectively remind the editors of these news outlets of their responsibilities? 

“Hi Chris.

I read your front-page headline Tuesday 19th July with dismay.

How to hide the story in the headline – The real story is that ICU admissions for & with COVID is just 33% of what it was at the peak of the pandemic.

The Courier Mail had an opportunity to put journalist principles to good use and present positive information to a fearful and exhausted public, battered by 2 years of restrictions. Instead, you ran with an alarmist headline, reinforced with a white out of red shock statement ‘IT’S OFFICIAL: WE’RE IN THE GRIP OF BIGGEST WAVE’.

The three journalists responsible for this article were careful to cover themselves by including the fact that ICU admissions are down to a fraction of what they were, but they buried that story with a shock introductory paragraph and no less than 8 bold and capitalised alarmist sentences in the body of the story.

Ask any nurse and they will confirm that hospital admissions are up in all areas, not just COVID. And they will explain the reason for this is that people are catching bugs as they start to get out and meet other people again after two years of restricted movement. They will also explain that everyone admitted to hospital, for whatever reason, is tested for COVID and many test positive with no symptoms.

I work in the events and business events sector and our industry today is probably a third of the size it was in 2019. Two years of almost no revenue has taken its toll – businesses gone, an exodus of talent to other industries, depression and even suicides.

For the past few months, the exhausted band of individuals who remain in our industry have cheerfully stepped up to the challenge of economic recovery, rebuilding their businesses & reconnecting with their customers.

Long delayed events have been delivered in short order by a willing but under resourced industry, and events operators are cautiously optimistic about the future.

Tourism and Events in Australia provide a massive contribution to the economy. Business events contribute $35.7Billion to the economy. In Queensland alone tourism is a $28Billion industry and most of that revenue flows directly back into local communities. How do you think your front-page story and the way the facts have been presented contributes to the recovery of these industries, the livelihoods of the people in them and ultimately the recovery of Queensland? People are resilient but even the most resilient have a breaking point.

Nearly three years of alarmist COVID headlines is beginning to work against the platforms on which they are published as weary audiences switch off. The answer could be a more balanced presentation of the facts, rather than the temporary fix of ramping up the shock value of COVID headlines?

I, and I’m sure many of my colleagues in the Events sector, invite you to get on board with our efforts to rebuild and recover. We’re not demanding pandemic denial or news blackouts, merely coverage that offers a more balanced perspective.

After all, aren’t we all supposed to be in this together?

Best regards

Russell Peacock”

Russell Peacock Director of Executive PA Media