Y2K: Americans Want to Know (news)

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Y2K: Americans Want to Know by Declan McCullagh

3:00 a.m. 29.Jan.99.PST WASHINGTON -- Americans want to know more about the Y2K glitch and how it could affect their lives and less about the reactionary fears it is causing, a new survey says.

The 1,002 people surveyed said the press should refrain from lurid tales of gun-toting survivalists predicting Armageddon and report instead on the Y2K readiness of local hospitals, governments, and electric utilities.

"People aren't getting enough information to assess Y2K in terms of their own preparedness," says Larry McGill, director of research at the Media Studies Center, which sponsored the poll and is releasing it Friday. The group is part of The Freedom Forum, an Arlington, Virginia-based foundation devoted to journalism and free speech.

McGill said the recent flood of reports on lentil-and-bean stockpiling isn't helpful.

"They're interesting human-interest stories, but the problem is that they don't give people the kind of information they need to make their own judgments," he said.

In the past six months, such coverage has become widespread, even formulaic. An article Wednesday in USA Today proclaimed "Y2K jitters head to Main Street," and recounted tales of people buying wood stoves, canning potatoes, and withdrawing cash.

Among the survey's findings:

53 percent of the public calls Y2K "one of the most important issues facing the country right now."

Building shelters, stockpiling food, and yanking cash from the bank is "overreacting" to the problem, say 70 percent of the respondents.

Only 10 percent surveyed predict "no problems at all."

Over half of those interviewed say more information on electricity, the US military, and 911 and emergency services is "very important."

In Washington, official fears about the potentially debilitating impact of Y2K have partly subsided, only to be replaced by another worry: Y2K panic spurred by alarmist press coverage.

Wired News reported Tuesday about a government public-relations plan that includes media outreach, advertising, and staged events to calm Y2K jitters.

McGill has similar fears. He said the media should "decide to spend their resources on stories that inform and empower citizens -- as opposed to stories that may arouse worry."

Nearly everyone surveyed had heard about the Year 2000 problem before, but only 21 percent said they had considered stockpiling food and water, and 16 percent reported plans to buy a generator or wood stove.

About 37 percent said they might avoid air travel around 1 January, although the figure would have been higher if only people likely to fly were asked the question.

This has spooked airline officials. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have responded to cancellation fears by selling only nonrefundable tickets for travel over the New Year's holiday. The Air Transport Association hopes to reassure customers through a public-relations campaign conducted with APCO Associates and Public Opinion Strategies, both based in Washington.

The University of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research and Analysis conducted the poll from January 11 to 18 on behalf of the Media Studies Center. It has a margin of error of 3 percent.

Copyright ) 1994-99 Wired Digital Inc. All rights reserved.

-- Leo (lchampion@ozemail.com.au), January 30, 1999


Yeah, I posted 2 days ago that this was taking place, see Live Public Forum on Y2K Press Coverage, from 1/28/99. Did anyone participate in the webcast? Rusty2k

-- Rusty2k (eeford@bellsouth.net), January 30, 1999.

btw, if you want the results of the poll there is a phone number listed on the post...Rusty2k

-- Rusty2k (eeford@bellsouth.net), January 30, 1999.

"This has spooked airline officials. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have responded to cancellation fears by selling only nonrefundable tickets for travel over the New Year's holiday."

My wife, who has been a travel agent for 12 years, tells me that 90% of all airline ticket sold are non-refundable, regardless of date of travel.

-- Bingo1 (howe9@pop.shentel.net), January 30, 1999.

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