Small talk revolves around health and the weather forecast

Colin McGann

There is a certain level of responsibility that comes with working in the media. Be it national or local news, there is an onus on each and every outlet to report and publish responsibly; to disseminate information in a fair and balanced manner and allow the reader to make up their own minds on the issues.

 Here at The Clare People, we do our utmost to present a balanced view of the events on which we report. And though this forms part of our modus operandi, we don’t expect all media organisations to operate in a similar fashion. 

We are well aware of political agendas, the history behind them and how and why they are pushed in certain circles; this is not the area in which I allude to the media responsibility. Rather, I’m speaking about the coverage of two specific issues across Ireland’s media — health and the weather.

We live in a country where small talk revolves around our health and the weather forecast, and this as it may be, over the past 24 months it has become apparent that these two subjects now provide huge volumes of traffic for media the length and breadth of the country. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with covering a storm or a heatwave — before, during or after the fact. Nor do I believe we should shy away from stories and discussion about the health of the nation, outbreaks at specific times of the year or waiting lists in hospitals, etc. Indeed, we at The Clare People would consider we have a responsibility to bring news of these issues to the people of Clare. When done responsibly, this coverage is insightful and informative for its readers. 

However, all too often, news outlets, particularly on their digital platforms, ignore this responsibility to their audience in favour of increasing traffic and garnering as much revenue as possible in the lead up to or aftermath of a specific health or weather-related event.

At present, we are experiencing a short and relatively mild ‘cold snap’. This has seen some frost in the mornings and temperatures teetering around the 0°C mark. 

And while this editor doesn’t deem this to be newsworthy in itself, there may of course be knock-on events that make it part of a larger story. 

What causes me some concern is the amount of reportage online late last week and over the weekend which presented the approaching cold weather as some sort of Siberian event, which would lead to traffic chaos, a shortage of home heating and a surge in bread sales. 

Since the implementation of Met Éireann’s colour-coded weather warnings, it seems as though media outlets across the country, both national and regional, have realised the potential revenue stream from whipping up a frenzy among the public through the use of click-bait-style headings and overly dramatic photos associated with stories alluding to a potential period of cold/stormy/wet weather. 

For me, this is an irresponsible use of their position among the community and devalues the opinion, to me at least. 

Although this began with some of the better-known proponents of ‘sexy news’, it has now spread right across the board. 

The same can be said of health events. In recent weeks, I would point to the impending flu epidemic. If we are to believe the majority of news outlets, everybody in the country will become impossibly susceptible to the flu and should lock themselves in their homes until such point as ‘flu season’ has passed. 

The irresponsibility of these posts is particularly aggravating to those of us who are parents or have relations who may suffer with specific health issues. The anxiety of trying to keep our more vulnerable members of society safe weighs heavily enough on the shoulders without the added pressure of being bombarded by constant scaremongering from a media we should be able to trust to inform us of the facts, without whipping up a frenzy. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating sticking your head in the sand. I am, however, questioning the lack of responsibility by the media in favour of earning a quick buck.  

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