I've got a real issue with the breathless, paranoid tone of a lot of media coverage lately. The combination of the 24-hour news cycle and too many news outlets, amplified by P2P communications methods like Twitter, is generating too much panic and too little analysis and reflection.
I confess I sometimes miss the way we watched news 20 years ago, gathered as a family at 8pm for the one evening news programme, which presented 24 hours of digested, verified, analysed news for our consideration.
We're seeing the exaggerated effects of this play out in spades with coverage of the swine flu, and (especially in US broadcast media) even with the smallest of stories. Witness the over-the-top reaction of news anchors to Arlen Specter's leaving the Republican Party (best summarised by Jon Stewart here).
In future posts I'd like to explore further some of the negative effects this excessive media hype has on government policy making in particular, and whether anything can be done about it. In the meantime, thanks to The Economist for exposing one particular story as being the result of a political turf war rather than a real global threat: the recent reports of serious cybersecurity attacks on US infrastructure.
We all read the news stories about Chinese hackers' breaching the US electricity grid and several national agency computer networks. There was something faintly hard to believe about the sudden panic. Now it turns out that this story was leaked, and hyped, by intelligence agencies fighting for control over cybersecurity. Read the detail here.
It's an appalling abuse of the viral power of today's media, and makes it difficult for any of us to tell real dangers from fiction. Let's hope that more of the supposedly serious media (like The Economist) improve their record of exposing these stories, preferably before they go into hype-mode.