It’s astonishing to think about how just three weeks ago, life was completely normal. I was attending my college classes, sleeping in my dorm room and seeing my friends daily. It felt like a switch went off as schools started sending their students home in light of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. As I manically texted each of my friends I knew at other schools that were taking measures, I hoped for the best for Wisconsin. However, just two days later, I was in my hometown in quarantine, miles and miles away from my college friends.
As a student interested in journalism and mass communications, I take an introductory course titled Journalism 201. Prior to when the coronavirus spread to America, we discussed it in my discussion. As a class, we talked about Wuhan, the city in China where the outbreak began, and how their entire country was in full quarantine as people were rapidly getting sick and dying. I could not believe the measures that were being taken to get rid of this contagious virus. It was difficult to picture life changing from the way I have known it my entire life. A few months later when a few cases were gradually appearing in the US, my class began seriously talking about it.
In this journalism class, we also discussed how the media has many techniques to get reactions out of people, which could affect why there is such panic about the coronavirus. The media uses agenda setting, which is the news displaying only what they think is important. This could create more panic than necessary by contradicting the importance of issues such as this. As readers and viewers are being exposed to news stories solely about the coronavirus in America, they are primed to think certain things about it. Priming is using media as your first source of information and using it as a mental shortcut. When people are primed over and over again, that is called chronic activation. This leads people to have this topic of information stuck in their brains.
Having learned all of these media techniques in class, I tried my best to be skeptical of the information I was receiving. With the media’s information on the virus, it was the only topic of conversation with my friends and family. And due its relevance and the dependency on media, there was a lot of room left for inaccuracies.
It was so interesting to see the progression of learning about how we should not necessarily trust everything we hear in the media to watching the local Walgreens be sold out of Purell and Lysol wipes. Even a few days later, I was being sent home without packing up my things in my dorm room to take online classes. The drastic changes in measures being taken to adjust to the coronavirus outbreak lead to much distress worldwide. People used to argue that others were overreacting due to the media’s exposure of the virus-related deaths and the increasing number of cases daily. In my own hometown, there are over a hundred cases and over a thousand in the state of New York.
As I was skeptical of the media at first, I tried to reassure my friends and family that COVID-19 is a pandemic, but it could be due to the media that people are reacting in such drastic ways. It took being quarantined in my house to understand how truly real the pandemic is. The world has changed as we know it, and it pains me to think about how it could take months before it goes back to normal.
Today, the media continues to report deaths of the coronavirus and suggests extreme measures that should be taken. I am aware of the media techniques, so I try to evaluate the truth for myself with a skeptical eye on the media coverage. Although this is a challenge, sometimes the media coverage has an agenda and a point of view. However, that does not necessarily mean it is wrong. Sometimes, that point of view can be accurate. As we see the spread of the virus continue and the truth about the lack of hospital capacity and supplies, such as ventilators and masks, the problem appears to be very serious. I will continue to read the media skeptically, but I also have to make decisions informed by my own experience and what I see around me.