Tim Wood | March 02, 2016 1:15 PM ET
Look Out, Norovirus: The Spread Of Mediavirus Is a Full-On Outbreak
I love being a writer. But more and more these days, I am embarrassed to be called a journalist.
The evolution of technology and media consumption has created a stink around our business that is well earned at times. First it was the 24-hour news cycle brought on by the rise of cable news and the Internet that dumbed down our world. Now, the rise of social media has microwaved a culture where being first is more important than being right and creating sensationalism is more important than being accurate.
The latest example of this fast-spreading disease in media is the reporting around the Anthem of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s monster cruise ship that has been facing a round of unfortunate calamities to start 2016 in its U.S. sailings.
The ship faced yet another return to port this past weekend after a rough storm forced the 4,900-passenger vessel to head back to Cape Liberty, N.J. There were reports of norovirus on the ship, which just heightened the media feeding frenzy. Outbreak everyone! Outbreak!
The headlines were salacious. WNBC-TV in New York called it “the storm-tossed ship” when first reporting its return to port. CNN went to the thesaurus and came up with "storm-battered." New York Magazine dubbed it the “bad luck cruise ship” and Cruise Law News called the ship the "Curse of the Seas" in its story, perpetuating the term already put out there in headlines from the Daily Mail, Inquistr, Newsmax and Examiner, just to name a few. "Doomed" was also a go-to word when you search Google over the last 72 hours.
An Associated Press executive aboard the ship didn’t help the narrative with social media posts describing the crew “scurrying around like ants” trying to clean the ship.
And of course, then came the analysis pieces talking about the PR problem, very meta considering the media is talking about the concocted doings of the media.
Let’s dial down the rhetoric a bit and deal in facts. First, the bad weather. After facing a horrific storm three weeks ago, company officials admitted mistakes and vowed to be more vigilant in protecting travelers and to avoid sailing in bad storms. By all accounts, last weekend’s storm was nowhere near the strength of the first, but the company decided wisely to play it safe.
They did just what they promised to do after the first showdown with Mother Nature. But that’s not a very attractive headline, is it?
Second, the norovirus. This has been a go-to story for cable news networks for years, especially during slow news cycles. If you’d watched CNN, FOX News or MSNBC, you’d think norovirus was exclusive to cruise ships. It has been a narrative that has kept many a potential first-time cruisers from taking to the sea. I should know.
It took me years to convince my wife to take that first cruise, largely because of preconceived notions about motion sickness and norovirus. You can’t stop us from taking anow. For us, it’s easily the most affordable and most relaxing vacation experience out there.
When you’re talking about a number of people in close quarters, there is always the possibility for germ-related ailments and that passengers already infected before boarding could spread the virus more quickly. But again, let’s point to the facts.
The Centers for Disease Control investigates when more than 2 percent of passengers report the illness. The CDC reported that of the 10.1 million cruise passengers in 2013, approximately eight one-thousandths of one percent (0.008%) of passengers reported illness.
Compare that to the cases of land-based norovirus, at hotels, restaurants, and the largest culprit as of late, college campuses. There are approximately 23 million land-based cases each year according to CDC data, which equates to about 1 in 12 people, or 8 percent of the population.
Does that mean norovirus isn’t an issue on cruise ships? Of course not. But cruise lines have consistently stepped up their cleaning procedures to minimize the risk.
If we take the numbers versus the media hysteria attached to norovirus and cruise ships and make that proportional to other sectors of the travel and food and beverage industries, every hotel and restaurant in the country would likely close in days. And college campuses would become ghost towns.
We’d all be holed up inside, becoming completely isolated and anti-social with all our postings on social media. Oh, wait …
There is hope in terms of the proportional reporting, if I put credence in my Google news search of "norovirus" today. But history tells me this is more of a calm before the next overblown media circus around the next cruise ship outbreak.
Back to Anthem of the Seas. With all the curses and doom, you’d think this ship was the most unsafe to be in America. As writer Paul Leone saw in a sailing shortly after the first storm encounter, the ship rebounded quickly with trace remnants of the weather tussle even noticeable.
The same cannot be said for this Mediavirus. It shows no signs of slowing and there appears to be no antidote to slow the spread.
I get it. Paranoia, curses, doom, it all sells. I have a choice whether to pay to see a horror movie at the theater.
I don’t want to be forced to choose not to be a writer anymore. I’m passionate about my profession and have spent most of my life honing that craft.
But watching the epidemic of laziness around me that feeds this mediavirus, I have little hope this outbreak can be contained.
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