Reporters are not the story

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Old school journalistic values are still important: it’s vital to try to preserve objectivity and distance from your subject and sources. You may not always achieve it, but you don’t throw these values away willy-nilly.

Then comes TV news ratings/sweeps periods.

KSTP-TV in Minneapolis began a two-part series on one of their reporter’s ovarian cancer last night, two days into a new ratings period. I’m quoted in the Star Tribune criticizing the decision. Station executives use predictable defenses to justify their decision.

What’s not in the paper are some of my other concerns:

1. Who says her case is representative of other cancer patients or even of other ovarian cancer patients? Then why is it newsworthy?
2. Why is it newsworthy? What editorial decision-making took place to lift her story to air worthiness? What’s the last story they did on ovarian cancer? Does it take someone on the on-air staff being diagnosed with something to get a station to report on it? What were the factors that made this newsworthy?
3. In weighing newsworthiness before a sweeps period, did they give any thought to covering the 20-30,000 Minnesotans who might lost MinnesotaCare coverage under current legislative proposals? Are the 30,000 less important than the one in-house story?
4. The station says that there is important public education to be achieved by publicizing such a case. If that’s so, what was the last story they did on ovarian cancer prior to this?

This is not an isolated case. It’s just the latest of many, in which TV people think their celebrity status is at such a level that their stories rise to newsworthiness, whereas the plight of the great unwashed remain unknown.

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