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How Your Sudden Bird Death and Mass Fish Kill Sausage is Made

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Thousands of bird deaths in Arkansas, Louisiana, Sweden and New Zealand. Mass fish kills spanning the globe. This is how your bird death and fish kill news is reported.

First, a statistical snapshot:

That's 3,225 news articles about Louisiana bird deaths! Of course, thanks to syndication, probably a full two-thirds of those are the same story. Still, that leaves 1,000 reporters... all on one beat. In addition, media reports are now coming in from Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Sweden, Brazil and Australia about new bird deaths or mass fish kills.

What is happening? Is it the end of the world? The "aflockalyspe," as an astute blogger at the Washington Post put it (more about her in a moment)?

Actually, this is pretty much exactly what is happening:

SCENE: Every newsroom in the country.

An editor storms into the newsroom. Everyone nervously clicks "close tab" on Mediabistro and Gawker, puts head down, pretends to shuffle through papers.

EDITOR: Hey, anyone looking into this dying bird thing?

No one in the room speaks.

EDITOR: Eric in SEO says this thing's really trending on Google. Who wants it?

More awkward silence.

EDITOR: Okay, I'll assign it. Parker - 

PARKER: Damnit!

EDITOR: Excuse me?

PARKER: Uh, I mean, I've got the double homicide verdict due tomorrow morning and before that I have to update the Sites We Like module, resize the photos for the Metro blog, insert all the links in the Weekender Music Listings, write a restaurant review and -

EDITOR: Never mind. Who else? Stephens, how about you? You like this stuff.

STEPHENS: Well, yeah, I would...ordinarily I mean, but this is, like, my last day?

EDITOR: Last day for what?

STEPHENS: At the company?

EDITOR: Where are... Oh! God. I completely forgot. You know you can count on me for a reference, right?

STEPHENS: Yeah, you said that before.

Hey, what about you, Allison, bird deaths?

ALLISON: Pardon me?

EDITOR: C'mon, this is hot!

Hot, sir?

EDITOR: Guaranteed Most Read list.

ALLISON: But I don't really -

EDITOR: I would have killed for something like this when I was a young reporter.

ALLISON: Okay. But I'm not, you know? A reporter person? I'm in business development?

EDITOR: Forget it, I'll do it myself.

And just like that, here we are, 3,000 bird death stories later.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post's Melissa Bell, following on a more reasoned report from the PBS NewsHour, helps sort fact from hysterical fiction:

"It seems sudden bird deaths occur more often than one would think. About 500 million to 1 billion birds are killed every year and mass deaths have been noted about 16 times in the past 20 years, the PBS NewsHour reports."
Of course, there's no reason to let science, statistics or coincidence ruin a good freakout.
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