Saturday, October 27, 2018

A 22 step guide to how to write a story to stir up germophobia.

Another day.  Another excessively germophobic news story. Today it is:

What's the dirtiest surface on an airplane? The result may surprise you | CBC News

In reading this article I realized, as others have before me, that these tend to follow a simple script.  Swab. Report on how dirty things are.  But I decided to dig in a little more.  And I have come up with  a foolproof way to write such stories. Just follow these 13 steps. These do not have to be done in the order below.
  1. Swab something
  2. Send swabs off for testing with a microbiologist or testing company to make it seem like there is some serious science going on. 
  3. Bonus points for showing microscopes or bacterial plates or other science things.
  4. Don't report the full methods or data. Just make it seem like you know what you are doing.  Be vague some of the time.  And use really big #s other times.
  5. Report on the results that make things seem way dirtier than people might have expected.  Say things like "Dirtier than a toilet seat". 
  6. Mention feces.  Or fecal matter.  Pretend or just flat out lie about how the testing you did shows that feces was in the samples.
  7. Mention something else that is gross. Condoms.  Bodily fluids.  Vomit.  Disease.  Vermin.
  8. Repeatedly use synonyms of "dirty" or "gross". 
  9. Mention human illness.  Often. 
  10. Bonus points for telling people they "could" or better yet - "likely will" - get specific diseases from touching these sites even when there is likely absolutely no evidence regarding likelihood of transmission.  
  11. Bonus points for mentioning nasty symptoms of human illness like diarrhea or vomiting or things involving bleeding.
  12. Mention specific microbes but only ones that make people sick and don't mention all the other microbes in samples.
  13. Definitely do not mention that some microbes you are calling dangerous also frequently come in non dangerous forms.
  14. Get a known fear mongering germophobe to comment about the results. 
  15. Bonus points if the person you get to comment has a nickname involving microbiology.
  16. Bonus points if the person you get to comment runs a company involved in infection prevention.
  17. Tell people to use hand sanitizer.
  18. Discuss how nobody cleans the surfaces swabbed in the story as often as you would have thought.  
  19. Bonus points for misleadingly saying that you can say something about how often or how well people clean the sites being studies from a limited amount of indirect swab data.
  20. Link to other germaphobic stories or videos.
  21. Ask the people responsible for the sites that were swabbed to comment without really providing them with enough details to be able to know what exactly was done or whether it means anything.
  22. Ask employees or other personnel to comment about other gross things they have seen associated with the sites being sampled.
And today's article has most / all of these.  I will leave it to you, dear readers, to figure out how to map these 22 things onto this and other stories.

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