EDITORIAL: Don’t kill the messenger

The call goes out from health officials: anyone who has eaten at a certain restaurant in town has been exposed to Hepatitis A and should seek a vaccination. Speed is of the essence in order to avoid a major outbreak of the highly contagious disease. Officials are faced with the task of alerting the most people in the shortest amount of time. Where do they turn? The media.

The preceding scenario is not fiction. The city of Hutchinson is dealing with just such an outbreak this summer. Without the help of television, radio and the newspaper, the task of alerting the community would be much more difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish.

A hepatitis mini-epidemic is not good news for a community like Hutchinson. Still reeling from the gas explosions last winter, the last thing the town needs is more negative publicity. Even the staunchest of media critics would likely agree, however, that this bad news is important news. The message must get out.

It’s not hard to find people in our community openly and vocally condemning the media. The first question to consider, however, is exactly what the speaker means by “the media.” Does he or she mean national news media, television, radio, newspapers, the Internet or movies? Is he or she referring to the local newspapers?

If the discussion is about the major media, be it broadcast or written, most people have a love/hate relationship with the national press. They claim they don’t like to hear bad news, but they demand to hear it. People may be tired of the Chandra Levy story, for example, but they keep tuning in anyway. That’s music to media ears.

On a local level, the job of the news media is to report what is happening in the community, whether good or bad. It is the task of the editor to determine what is newsworthy and what is not. Obviously, not every reader will agree with those decisions. Sometimes the good news seems to be squeezed out by the bad. At other times, the slant is more toward feel-good stories.

Before people condemn all forms of media, they need to stop and consider what they could be missing if the press did not exist. For the people of Hutchinson, lack of media could be a sickening prospect indeed.

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