Good morning, it's eight o'clock and you're listening to breakfast news on BBC Radio One. In today's headlines, IBM launches a new hard disk drive, Microsoft releases a bug patch for IE 5 and Compaq opens new production facility in Skegness.
Not really very likely is it? But nevertheless, in the same week that Nato went to war with Yugoslavia, TV, radio and newspaper headlines were snatched by Melissa, a fast spreading but relatively harmless macro virus.
So why does the mainstream media seize upon virus stories with a passion?
Viruses are hardly new - the UK press has been covering the subject for well over 10 years now. One could easily explain the matter away with the old maxim "Good news is no news" and this is certainly true to some extent - you'll never read a headline saying "Masses of freely available academic research on the Net." There are other factors here, though. The media is excited by the promise of IT, but finds the reality disappointingly dull - a problem compounded by the fact that it's usually covered by people who don't really understand the subject. So when a story comes along which has a whiff of "out of control computers on the rampage wreaking havoc and destruction across the globe," it's hardly surprising that news editors start thinking, aha, this is what we want to hear, this is the technology Hollywood told us about.
The level of serious IT coverage in the mainstream media is still woefully inadequate. Most newspapers rarely touch the real issues and are generally unable to provide well informed coverage of the subject, preferring instead to look at the occasional curio or off-beat story. TV is even worse. Occasionally the BBC might have a stab at raising general public awareness of IT, but the fact is that a large proportion of the general public already use IT at work and in the home. Surely it wouldn't be too much to ask for some sort of serious coverage of the subject aimed at those who understand and use computers as a part of their day to day lives.
The government seems keen to propel Britain into the information revolution and create a highly IT literate society. An admirable aim, and there's no doubt that it can be achieved. But while so much of the media still views computers as something of an oddity and still believes IT to be a niche subject, it's going to be next to impossible to show the populace what it's really all about.
For most people, IT is becoming a normal part of everyday life and this fact should be reflected in the way the media handles the subject. That means providing the general public with more relevant technology news and coverage rather than sensationalism and scaremongering.
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