Around 20 years ago I used to work for a well-know national broadcasting service (it shall remain nameless but it begins with B). I sat in on the daily newsroom editorial meetings and listened to the discussions as to what stories should be dropped, or if included, the angle to be taken.  I listened rather than contributed because I wasn’t a trained journalist: I also had four very young children at the time and didn’t have much head-space for editorial discussion.

I was initially employed to do the traffic and travel bulletins and some showbiz news (hence my nickname #ShowbizLis, or Showbs for short!).  I was always relieved at the end of the shift, if I hadn’t infuriated the motoring public of the south of England, by sending them off at the wrong, blocked ,motorway junction. Such pressure!

I was starting to cover some news stories, one of the earliest ones being about dog shit in Bracknell: I wish I’d kept the recording because it was quite funny.  I had a very serious conversation with the Bracknell dog warden live on-air.  As the interview was coming to an end, I happened to look down and he’d trodden in a pile of dog shit.  He was able to rest his already-powerful case about people not picking up their pets’ poo and we laughed out loud. That was my claim to funny fame.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and looking back, I wish I’d spoken up a bit more and challenged the decision-making in those meetings.  I often wondered if the team (who were great people btw) really understood the power they wielded.  Apart from dog shit, I can’t remember what the issues were, so I suppose they weren’t of national importance. Unlike now.

Words matter.  They have incredible power and must be chosen carefully, particularly if they are being broadcast to the nation.  Choosing my words carefully now, I flip between feeling dismayed and appalled at the media coverage of the covid-19 crisis. This makes me wonder what’s going on in these news editorial meetings and do any of the key decision-makers understand the trauma their bulletins are inflicting on the public?  Perhaps social psychology should be part of a journalist’s training if it isn’t already.

I quote the WHO: “As the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern in the population at large and among certain groups in particular, such as older adults, care providers and people with underlying health conditions.In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety.”
CONSIDERABLE degree of fear?  I think that’s putting it rather mildly.

In my view, the way the media are reporting the crisis (particularly TV) is only exacerbating the stress.  Putting another hat on, I’m a former qualified nurse: we were trained and very experienced in dealing with traumatic situations. The general public, sitting in their living rooms at home are not. The virus will pass, as viruses do, and the media circus will move on to the next story.  Then, we’ll be left to pick up the pieces of the socio/economic-panic virus, transmitted not by droplet infection but by the UK media.

Here are my tips to help you and your family cope with the media (both social and mainstream).

Please be very mindful about how you are consuming the news – don’t let it consume you. We are wired to survive and we naturally filter the days experiences in order to learn from our mistakes.  It’s known as the brain’s negativity bias and if we watch the news late at night, we go to bed with a heap of fear on our minds which has to be processed.  Equally, turning on the news first thing in the morning starts the day off in a negative state.

Only watch the news ONCE a day, preferably in the middle of the day: if you watch the Downing St briefings later to keep informed, that’s fine. The briefings are less emotive and the language less inflammatory (some of the time, but sadly, not most of the time).

Even better, if you can, take it in turns in the family. Get one person to watch the briefings and inform the rest of the family with the following in mind:

EVERYTIME you watch something sad/distressing/downright anger provoking, IT IMPACTS ON YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM – it LOWERS it. Now more than ever you need to look after yourself, your loved ones and by doing that, support our NHS staff: this is a simple way of keeping your immune system strong and healthy so you can be more resilient.

Start to become more aware of the language used and question if it’s helping you digest the facts you need, or making you more anxious.

We need to be responsible and stay informed as to the correct things we need to do – and then SWITCH the bloody news OFF.

Then, fire up your favourite funny programme… THAT IS THE END OF THIS IMPORTANT BULLETIN!

I’ve done all of the above and it helps. Having written this, I’m off to complain about irresponsible reporting to that national broadcasting organisation that begins with B.  Maybe they’ll read out my blog in an editorial briefing…..