I know I said I was done with Consuming Journalism. I've never claimed to not not be an unreliable narrator (untangle that...and then let me know what it means, because I'm not sure).
I am very much interested in how we consume and interpret journalism, and for a while I thought it was something I might be good at examining. Unfortunately (or fortunately), despair and pessimism pounded me into the ground. The Consuming Journalism segment is going into the occasional, half-assed category. You know, kind of like the blog. (I like blogging.) (I like and overuse parentheses.)
But I'll roll it out occasionally when something interests me. Tonight I was interested.
Not a fan of Yahoo. My early internet-addicted muscle memory still types in Yahoo every now and again. I saw an article exploring why numbers appear to be rising. I was instantly interested. Everything I have read suggests case numbers are rising, and that makes perfect sense. Variants, easing of restrictions, pandemic fatigue, increased travel, etc. But I saw what I thought*** were problems in the text of an article on the topic. And that's the heart of Consuming Journalism - looking at how the information is presented, the sourcing, and the underlying methodologies.
Let's back up for a second. I believe COVID cases are rising. Worldometers, Washington state data, and the CDC's director are telling me cases are rising. I don't doubt it for a second. But I can and should think critically about information presented to me, even if it bolsters or reinforces my opinions.
Here's the Yahoo article I was looking at:
Coronavirus: 3 reasons why confirmed cases are on the rise again
I started by reading the text, and I (incorrectly) got skeptical about the strength of the article. Why? Red flags.
Things started off well.
And according to Dr. Calvin Sun, an NYC-based emergency medicine physician, there are three main factors driving this recent uptick: the virus mutating, the rolling back of safety measures, and the recent increase in travel.
But here was the first red flag.
“One is the variants,” Sun said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above) [video above refers to the original article, not here]. “People are getting reinfected again. Do you know how many times I’ve been hearing ‘not again’?”
A recent study found that less than 1% of adults report getting reinfected with the virus. But for those who do get reinfected, they could experience more severe symptoms the second time around if they're positive for one of the several variants (mutant strains).
I get wary when I hear anecdotes, especially with respect to a huge scientific unknown - reinfection rates.
“People are getting reinfected again. Do you know how many times I’ve been hearing ‘not again’?”
No, I don't know how many times you've heard that, and if you're hearing that, we REALLY need to know exactly how many times you've been hearing that.
The text went back to sensible ground.
The second reason for the surge in cases "is a half-hearted response,” Sun said. “Mask mandates only do so much. Not all businesses are forcing it, and only half of them are or three-quarters. That’s like only vaccinating 80% of the population. That 20% is going to get reinfected, create a new variant, recombination, and then we have to start all over again. Not all of us are safe until everybody is safe.”
But then another red flag, a vague anecdote.
“Most of the people I’ve been telling are positive since last Thursday and Friday [have said] ‘I was on a plane,'" Sun said. "Where did you come from? And it’s usually one of four or five states.”
Dr. Sun didn't name the states. That's another red flag for me, another unnecessary anecdote. I'm going to use the word wary again. I get wary when people bounce between very precise, statistics-based information and anecdotes.
***I think my criticism of the text was at least partially correct, but I think, in total, my criticism was wrong. There's an accompanying video to the article that I think adds a great deal of valuable context. In watching the video, I thought, ok, here's a smart, articulate doctor engaging in a fast-paced back and forth interview. Quotes taken from interviews lose important context and atmospherics.
I would still like to hear more specifics with respect to the anecdotes, but I also see the anecdotes as moments in a fast-moving interview.