The mainstream media are incorrigible. That drive and tenacity which compels journalists to leave no stone unturned in their investigations, to negotiate access to the world’s scariest war zones can also sometimes undermine their judgment of what constitutes effective communication.

Now is just such a time. Am I alone in rationing my intake of COVID-19 news? Akin to how I manage coffee consumption, I indulge heavily in the morning but by lunchtime I am done. Perhaps, in the early evening, when caffeine has been replaced by another drug of choice, I will scan the headlines from the daily UK government briefing but, overall, enough already!

The reason? In short, the overwhelming narrative, certainly at a national level, is that everything is terrible, apart from Captain Tom who, as if to make the point, has now been promoted to Colonel.

Of course, we are in the grip of a cruel, relentless public health crisis the consequences of which are life-changing for all and sadly life-ending for too many. And, if you search hard enough, it is possible to unearth cheerier tidings, examples of kindness in the face of adversity, of new attitudes and behaviours that touch our hearts and confirm our faith in humanity. All hail to the landlords, for example, who have offered security to anxious tenants by freezing their rents.

Significantly, however, these human-interest stories tend to be local where the press infrastructure has been massively diminished by the internet.

It must be said, too, supporting some of the more severe criticism, that the Westminster administration has not had a great pandemic so far. Our elected leaders were slow out of the blocks, jogged in the wrong direction for a while, then sprinted in the right direction while still failing to make up lost ground.

The initially gung-ho Prime Minister himself succumbed to the virus. However, even a fit, chastened Boris is a broad-brush kind of a guy, ill-suited to meticulous, data-driven policy making.

Consider BoJo’s buses, introduced when he was mayor of the capital. On hot summer days, ineffectual air conditioning (and tiny windows obviously) turn these vehicles into mobile saunas. In addition, widespread battery problems have caused the hybrid power unit to malfunction, resulting in significantly more harmful emissions from the admittedly handsome ‘New Bus for London’ than from the old Routemaster it replaced.

Like his double-decker then, Boris is superficially attractive but fundamentally flawed. If such a man, despite his undeniable leadership qualities, is surrounded with inexperienced, unimpressive lackeys (the Cabinet) and subservient scientists, the crisis management of coronavirus in this country plays out as we have seen.

So, why take issue with the constant stream of negativity from the mass communications channels? Because the media bear a special responsibility in the nation’s response to this most elusive of challenges. It will be a long haul. They are our window into mission control, our grown-up point of reference, our official barometer.

In this endeavour, effective communication from such key sources is essential and one of the fundamental requirements for so doing is knowing your audience across all dimensions. Clearly, everyone is hungry for knowledge, guidance and, where appropriate, instruction. But tone of voice and emotional intelligence are important too.

As I mentioned in my last blog, we are all grieving, on a macro and micro level, about the current and anticipated losses from this global catastrophe. Everywhere we look there is bad news, real and fake, that we are absorbing to the point of numbness and despair. Programmers and editors out there need to recognise that we crave positive stimulation too, beyond shared pet videos and operatic Sicilians on their balconies.

This is not a call for totalitarian-style obfuscation. There is a vital role for agitation and, as an example, a truly independent newspaper like The Byline Times is providing an invaluable supplement to and benchmark for the output from more traditional titles and the major broadcasters.

In order truly to understand your audience, however, there needs to be more balance, more effort to cultivate the wasteland, more of the light, less of the tunnel. Regardless of the facts, to achieve the best outcomes, sometimes it is wrong to be right.

In a nutshell, it comes down to empathy. At times like this, effective communication must be frequent, clear, candid, and responsible (Matt Hancock, please note) but, more than anything else, it must be alive to the mindset of a population that is troubled and weary.

Journalists know, especially in a race for clicks, that good news resonates less well than bad news. And they will always be more captivated by the odd than the even, the ‘man bites dog’ rather than ‘dog bites man’.

But can I make a request for more hope and cultural sensitivity on the menu currently being offered by our main media platforms? Greater breadth and variety will extend the effectiveness of the COVID-19 messaging by, in the mix, embracing optimism, maintaining motivation and encouraging continued compliance.

I know that Colonel Tom is only five promotions away from Field-Marshall but, with all due respect, relying on a man in his 101st year is more of a tactic than a strategy.