Crisis Journalism

I don’t want to “bee” a media critic. But I could not help myself when I read this week the following story from the AP. It covers the mysterious illness/parasite that is attacking honey bees around the country.

 What stuck out to me is that the author made it out to be like the end is near for the U.S. honeybee population. If you read just the first part of the story, you would think we are all going to be eating bland food for the rest of our lives. Then toward the end of the story, experts explain that this may not be unusual because the honey bee populations have experienced major problems in the past and come back.

The honeybee article typifies the “Crisis Journalism” that has become all too common in the American media.

It almost seems as if in an effort to get everybody’s attention, journalists are presenting issues in the worst light possible. I can relate to the temptation. In this age of media glut, we want to make a difference and be heard. But sometimes this is downright reckless. Often it is unbalanced and dishonest.

Since people usually don’t read to the bottom of the story, journalists should make sure that the truth is accurately portrayed in the top third of any article or major broadcast media story.

Take a look and see if I am being too harsh.

Honeybee die-off threatens food supply

By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer

BELTSVILLE, Md. – Unless someone or something stops it soon, the mysterious killer that is wiping out many of the nation’s honeybees could have a devastating effect on America’s dinner plate, perhaps even reducing us to a glorified bread-and-water diet.

Honeybees don’t just make honey; they pollinate more than 90 of the tastiest flowering crops we have. Among them: apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash and cucumbers. And lots of the really sweet and tart stuff, too, including citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe and other melons.

In fact, about one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S.

Even cattle, which feed on alfalfa, depend on bees. So if the collapse worsens, we could end up being “stuck with grains and water,” said Kevin Hackett, the national program leader for USDA’s bee and pollination program.

“This is the biggest general threat to our food supply,” Hackett said.

While not all scientists foresee a food crisis, noting that large-scale bee die-offs have happened before, this one seems particularly baffling and alarming.

U.S. beekeepers in the past few months have lost one-quarter of their colonies — or about five times the normal winter losses — because of what scientists have dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. The problem started in November and seems to have spread to 27 states, with similar collapses reported in Brazil, Canada and parts of Europe.

Then this came at the end…. 

University of Montana bee expert Jerry Bromenshenk has surveyed more than 500 beekeepers and found that 38 percent of them had losses of 75 percent or more. A few weeks back, Bromenshenk was visiting California beekeepers and saw a hive that was thriving. Two days later, it had completely collapsed.

Yet Bromenshenk said, “I’m not ready to panic yet.” He said he doesn’t think a food crisis is looming.

Even though experts this year gave what’s happening a new name and think this is a new type of die-off, it may have happened before.

Bromenshenk said cited die-offs in the 1960s and 1970s that sound somewhat the same. There were reports of something like this in the United States in spots in 2004, Pettis said. And Germany had something similar in 2004, said Peter Neumann, co-chairman of a 17-country European research group studying the problem.

“The problem is that everyone wants a simple answer,” Pettis said. “And it may not be a simple answer.”

The article seems accurate if read in its entirety. But if you just read the top three or four paragraphs, you would think this is the greatest natural disaster since Al Gore discovered global warming. {That’s a joke people. I know that Al Gore didn’t discover global warming. He just made a movie about it.}

Journalists have the responsibility to cover things that people don’t want to hear. Most people would rather focus on who gets booted off American Idol than real issues. At the same time, reporters must work to be accurate and avoid sensationalism. And we must take into consideration consumer media habits as we craft our stories.

I have been guilty of the same mistake in the past. Hopefully, journalists as a community will become more daring to challenge experts, ask tough questions of all sides in a debate and avoid putting sensationalist language at the top of the story just to get people’s attention.

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One response to “Crisis Journalism

  1. I’m sure that Mr. Borenstien’s article was part of a retail publication, thefore making the overtones of crisis and dispair a nessicary part of the for-profit publishing industry. If you cant keep people’s interest, how can you sell the ad space at a high price? What better wat to keep people’s interest than fear?

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