Sunday, 18 October 2009

Intrusion into grief

Is wanting to know about the lives of those who died from swine flu an intrusion into grief? The short answer is yes if the family and friends would prefer not to talk about it. But many do and I for one am glad that they do tell us about their loved one's lives. It stops these deaths just being cold statistics and makes us aware that some lovely people have been brought down by this vicious bug. And it shakes off any complacency that swine flu is just something that happens to "other people". Those 'other people' are perhaps envisaged by most of the public as still weak, sickly old people. Far from it. Health officials seem quick to say they're not realeasing any more details out of respect for the family but I don't suppose I'm the only journalist to have received a call from the bereaved family the day after publication wanting to know why we didn't get in touch to find out more about their loved one's life. The decision to talk or not to talk must be the family's and not the well intended but misguided view of the health authority press office. And if anyone needs reassurance that talking about the loss of a loved one need be a morose affair rather than a celebration of that person's life just look at the many wonderful tributes to David Hayes.

I think poster Pauly below is quite right - I have misunderstood the maths in the wire stories that talked about a doubling of swine flu (journalists and maths eh?!). My only defence is that the story I was looking at (here) doesn't readily justify the headline "rate doubled". I'm an old-fashioned sub who likes the justification of the headline in nothing lower than the second paragraph! But has the rate 'doubled'? (and is that the rate for England or the UK, and has it doubled in a week, fortnight or month). If it went from 14,000 to 18,000 to 27,000 over the last three weeks that's surely 'more than doubled' over the last week. I feel a graph coming on! There was a headline during the week which talked about swine flu deaths  in Scotland rising by 40 per cent - they had gone up from 10 to 14. It's quite accurate but "four more deaths from swine flu" might have been a better way of putting it in context.

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