Health News Review

As my research has shown, whenever ratings-sweeps periods roll around, television news departments miraculously find time to cure the problem of not having enough time to devote to health news.

In my market, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, the May sweeps period has been filled with tears, joy and new hope surrounding dramatic breakthroughs and promising developments for victims of illness. (There, I just polished off my “seven words you shouldn’t use in medical news��? in almost the same time as the normal TV anchor lead-in.)

This week on local TV, I saw:

• The “countdown to separation��? for conjoined twins. And I saw it over and over and over on all local stations. All conjoined twins all the time. Like it’s never been done before. You’d never know there were 45-million uninsured in this country but you sure know a lot about these two kids.

• A single-source story, “Doctor Has New Method To Break Up Kidney Stones,��? with no input from any independent source

• “Minnesota Twins’ wives step up to fight cancer��?

• “States prepare for bird flu fears, pandemic��? – how health officials from California to New York were taking steps to allay any fears that might arise from the TV movie “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America” – a local ABC affiliate story about the ABC network movie that was panned by critics. Nice cross-promotion, huh? Or, the local affiliate could have just refused to air the sappy production.

• Another station posted on its website, “Bird Flu Preps,��? asking the tough questions for which we all want answers, such as: “But what happens if there’s no one to anchor the news? No one to operate the cameras? And no reporters in the field to tell us what’s going on?��?

To be fair, I saw only a portion of one story that reported: “An organ donation group that gives priority to members over others in need is causing medical ethicists to question its appropriateness.��? This is the kind of issue-oriented health news story that is lacking in many TV newscasts. So credit should be given to KSTP-TV for digging beneath the surface of news releases on breakthroughs and cures.

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