You can tell it’s TV sweeps-ratings time

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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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