If there was a ever a better example of how news works, then I have yet to see it. It should be a text book for wannabe PRs in their ivory towers of PR learning in such exotic far-flung places as Bournemouth, Southampton and Keele (all of which, I believe, proffer degrees in PR to the spinsters of tomorrow). (Except Keele, which I added to the list because it SHOULD offer a degree in communications.)
So, young Paduan learners, fingers on your clickers and through the magic of internettery, track down the development of the swine ‘flu story since Monday of this week (July 13 2009). It started with no particular worries – OK so the first two people with no ‘underlying’ health issues has died, tragic, but two of them. After all, 22,000 people a normal year die from ordinary ‘flu. That nice Mr Burnham, the health secretary, promised everyone a shot of vaccine, starting in the next month or so and half the population would be vaccinated by autumn. Fine.
But no. The very next day, the World Health Organisation pops up and says that Mr Burnham may have jumped the gun. No vaccine available until August. No safe vaccine available until two or three months of clinical trial after that. Chief Medical Officer cannot confirm or deny whether estimates of one death per 200 population are near the mark or not – and we all know what that means. Scientists – this is my favourite bit – are ‘surprised’ at how quickly the swine ‘flu virus is spreading.
Then today. GPs have seen a leap of almost 50% in the numbers of people contacting them because they’re feeling a bit piggy – over 40,000 a week. Cherie Blair’s got it – nay, is ‘battling’ it. Still no vaccine. Burnham’s back on the attack saying that he’s right and there will be vaccine. Others saying that there’ll be bo vaccine for the bulk of the population until next year (which will be a bit late).
This is the most amazing vignette of how a story develops and how – in this internet age – quickly things can change, people’s positions can change and (as I’m sure we’ll see) reputations and careers can be made and broken.
Frankly – I’d rather not be a spin doctor in the Depertment of Health at the present moment.