Controlling the spread of hopelessness
By Jim Slusher
In a column for the Detroit Free Press this week, the writer and broadcast commentator Mitch Albom laid out a road map of sorts for news coverage of the national health crisis that will surely be the defining story of the year, if not longer. I won't try to improve on Albom's poignant reflection, which you can find at www.freep.com, but I can't help but remark that its underlying theme -- that news organizations have a duty to expand beyond the sensational and the political in reporting the COVID-19 story -- is virtually the driving philosophy behind the news decisions and approaches Daily Herald editors, reporters and photographers are making.
Inasmuch as we are all but confined to our homes and separated from each other and our most basic social activities, there is a natural impulse among news agencies to explain the source of our seclusion and, in order to impress on everyone the dangers requiring these extreme measures, to detail the great risks of the novel coronavirus and the alarming consequences of insufficient action. Such reports, naturally, can stoke fear. Inasmuch as no one has all the answers and the actions we are taking have strong negative consequences of their own, it is natural for people to discuss and debate where to find the appropriate balance between safeguarding health and disrupting society. These discussions, naturally, can stoke anger and division. Fear, anger and division are not what will get us through this crisis nor what will sustain us when it is over. So, it is critical that the news reporting and commentary that carry us through and get us beyond the crisis accentuate what positive ideas and feelings can be found.
Albom says, "We must be concerned with more than just our bodies in the coming months. We need to protect our minds," and he adds that "As much as we need to control the spread of the virus, we need to control the spread of hopelessness." For us, this means such things as asking you to send us pictures of your "Wilsons," the brighteners you are using to combat the dark moods of isolation. It means providing a song of the day that could make you smile. It means providing recommendations for books that will not just pass your time but fill it with delight. It means stories and pictures highlighting a Grayslake neighborhood where Halloween and Christmas decorations have been revived to spread cheer; describing neighborhood "Honk and Wave" parades; publishing inspirational messages drawn in chalk on random suburban sidewalks; describing the experiences of a former Island Lake village trustee who contracted the disease and posts regularly on Facebook to, in her words, "humanize," the virus; and covering many more such positive stories in addition to our responsibility to report the stark numbers of illness and death that can never be overlooked. It means emphasizing in our commentary, as in our Sunday editorial, the strengths and unity that will pull us all through, even as we accept and acknowledge that many people are suffering.
There is room for finger pointing and political debate. That is natural, even necessary, done constructively. There is a place for alarm and concern. These are ignored at our peril. But we also need something more. "The dangers of the virus should never be ignored," Albom writes in his column. "But neither should the hopefulness of surviving it."
If COVID-19 is to be the defining story of our time, our abiding goal is that what defines us is not our fear, anger and division but that hopefulness.