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New Yorkers speak out on Y2K media coverage

Public: Give us meat, not gristle, of Y2K story

By Paul Eisenberg
Media Studies Center

NEW YORK - The media provide interesting coverage of people
canning food, installing wood-burning stoves or retreating to
cabins ahead of the Y2K computer bug, but not enough
explanation of how the big glitch could affect all of us, New
Yorkers said today in a public forum.

About 80 Midtown-Manhattan dwellers and workers dropped in to
have their say in the Media Studies Center's "Speak Out"
forum, "Press Coverage of the Y2K Computer Bug: Help or

Mary Clifford said the media had been far too frivolous and
whimsical about reporting on the Y2K bug, a technological
snag that may cause computers worldwide to misread "00" at
midnight Dec. 31 as the year 1900 rather than 2000. The
public hears plenty on how people on the fringes of society
are dealing with the bug, Clifford said, but not enough on
how "the rest of us are supposed to handle it."

Clifford also feared that the media circus of the moment
would drown out what is not inherently a sexy story. "If it
bleeds, it leads, and here's a story that doesn't bleed," she
said. Noting how coverage of the White House sex scandal
eclipsed stories about the pope's visit to Cuba, she feared
that with continuing scandal coverage and "any more media
circuses this year ... this story will be shunted into the

Frank Egan, a running coach from New York, agreed that Y2K
coverage had been superficial and had gravitated to both ends
of the spectrum - doomsaying fear on one end and blithe
indifference on the other. Egan said there's "not enough
truth" and that he would like to see more stories on how
close the U.S. government is to Y2K readiness. Otherwise, he
said, "how are we supposed to gauge [Y2K's effect] on our

Mark Miller, a Y2K systems analyst, suggested that the press
regularly announce when various companies conduct Y2K testing
so that many industries can coordinate their efforts. "If the
press puts the daily almanac and sport stories [in the
paper], it can publish testing dates," he said.

New Yorker Jack Fogerty agreed with Miller that the press was
in a unique position to furnish the public with regular
information about Y2K. "I'd like to see a weekly televisiion
vignette or a few minutes on a Friday newscast so the status
of the situation can be reported. Coverage is good, but it
could be better."

Participant Tom Goldstein said the media may not be equipped
to report thoroughly on Y2K until the time comes. "The media
are in a quandary about how to report this. It's a story that
has to be forecast and I don't know how well the media can
forecast a story that hasn't happened yet. When the disaster
happens, then we'll be able to make sense of it."

Larry McGill, research director of the Media Studies Center,
presented findings of a recent Media Studies Center survey
noting that 53% of the more than 1000 Americans polled agreed
that the year 2000 computer issue is one of the most
important problems facing the country.

What do you think? Have your say in The Forum.
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