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Bird and fish deaths: the Qantas syndrome at work

January 8th, 2011 at 02:30am

On Thursday I was sitting at work watching the TV news report on yet another mass bird death (or maybe it was a fish death) and in the same breath rehash the words of some government official somewhere speculating on possible reasons for the deaths, as if what he was saying was new and informative when in fact it was exactly what they reported him as saying the previous day, and was pure speculation and totally uninformative.

It was at this point that it struck me: these events are neither related, nor remarkable. Mass animal deaths happen all the time, perhaps not usually with as many in such a short space of time, but whenever you have these intermittent random events, you will necessarily see a momentary spike in them. The fact that there was a momentary spike in mass animal deaths is newsworthy, it is worthy of discussion, and in the places where the deaths occurred, it’s definitely one for the record books…but the hype, the panic, the near headline spot on TV news bulletins in countries where the deaths aren’t even occurring, is not even remotely warranted.

I fell for the hype for a few days. I was wrong.

The other thing which struck me about this on Thursday was that it’s the Qantas syndrome all over again. What I mean by that is that whenever a Qantas plane has some sort of somewhat newsworthy problem (and the amount of danger required to warrant it being a “newsworthy event” for Qantas seems to be less than for other airlines), every other little thing which happens on a Qantas plane over the following two or three weeks becomes somehow related to the original story and “symptomatic of an ongoing dangerous trend” in the media’s eyes…to the point where “air travel industry experts” are called upon to comment on stupid trivial things like a plane’s kitchen’s microwave oven’s lightbulb burning out (example only…but many of the Qantas events which get reported are about as trivial as that).

This bird/fish/whatever death story is the same. Birds die in one spot on New Year’s Eve. It’s a slow news day so the story goes further than it normally would. Fish die nearby, local news people pass it on to the national press who see a connection and suddenly it’s an international story. Birds die elsewhere, and the world’s media assume it’s all connected because the experts don’t have a sane explanation, and then every animal death for the next week is related and becomes global news.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up now (I was tempted to let it slide and just ignore the bird/fish/whatever death story from here on) is twofold:
Firstly, I was wrong to follow the media’s excitement and hype
Secondly, I completely forgot to write a retraction of my hype and excitement and was reminded when I saw a clip of Glenn Beck’s show where he had a similar thought bubble to me and reminded me of another topic.

Towards the end of the clip, Glenn wanders on to the topic of fuel prices (there was a coherent link between the stories, but I’ve forgotten while I’ve been writing this post…watch the clip and you’ll see it) and how a few years ago the media latched on to the story of fuel prices in the US nearing $3 per gallon with much alarm. Now that the prices are at that level again, the media is almost completely silent on the matter (I think I spotted one passing mention in the middle of a not-quite-related story last week).

This reminded me of how, over here, I was filling up my fuel tank a few weeks back when I noticed the price on that day and thought “gee, a couple years back this price would have been enough for a month long session of ranting from the media…where are they now?”. It’s as if the media have moved on to some other topic and are now happy to ignore the fuel prices.

And if that’s the case, it leads me to wonder why they no longer seem to care. Was the fuel price outrage just a distraction from other news? Or is the current lack of outrage and focus on other non-stories (bird deaths, microwave ovens on planes etc) a distraction from the fuel price?

Personally I think it’s neither and that instead, the mainstream media have a short attention span and aren’t very good at following through on stories except when they’ve run out of new stories and need to check up on old ones in order to fill a content quota. Whilst this isn’t a good thing, it does have one almost positive outcome, and that is that with the mainstream media now sidetracked by an imminent royal birth, we should get a rest from all of the unrelated animal death stories…unless a few hundred birds land on the hospital in which the royal birth takes place, in which case we could probably expect a month of both stories blotting out all others.

Samuel

Entry Filed under: General News,Samuel's Editorials

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