Sunday, July 26, 2009

No hysteria, please

Ambulance chasing, aircraft crashes, swine flu...

We don't do hysteria at KSFR News. At least we try not to. In fact, I think we may go out of way to avoid the news items that seem to want to lead to hysteria.

When the four teens from Santa Fe were killed in a head-on collision. We didn't air the tape of the 911 call.

When the state police helicopter crashed in the mountains above Santa Fe, I thought about asking state police for the taped communications between base and copter. But I chose not to. When other outlets put the audio on their websites, morbid curiosity led me to go there and listen to them (maybe to get a new angle to cover the story?). But KSFR did not air them.

There's enough anguish in the actual fact of those types of events that would not be better served by repeating raw, emotional details -- at least not for us.

So, what about swine flu?

Each year when flu season comes along, I grit my teeth that even talking about it and promoting the fact that the flu shots are ready will add to hysteria. Of course, we'll urge people to get their flu shots. But I'll do it while also asking the question, do 30,000 Americans really did from flu each year? I've never known or heard of one. So, I challenge the state health department about their numbers all the time. Last year, they reported that in one month alone, 19 New Mexicans had died from flu and pneumonia complications. I asked: "How many did of flu by itself?" "A couple," they replied. Why lump the numbers together? To make them more compelling?

Now, we're confronted by not one but two types of flu. Will swine flu be more deadly? The hype makes it sound that way. Who will be more susceptible to it, the young and elderly or somewhere in the middle. The early evidence suggests it will be those somewhere in the middle.

And how many will die? It's always seemed like 30,000 Americans falling to seasonal flu each year is a lot, although I spoke with a statistician recently who says for a population our size, it's not many at all. If it's not many at all, why the hysteria? Many times more people die in auto crashes.

Yes, we'll report about swine flu. I'll even see how the state's emergency preparedness people are getting ready.

I just hope that whatever we report on KSFR News will contribute to education, not to hysteria.

Robin Lustig of BBC news has these thoughts about swine flu on his blog.

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