TV sweeps period produces health news panic

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A San Antonio Express-News columnist reminds us that we’re in the middle of the February TV ratings or sweeps period. And she laments the hype, including that of health news. Excerpt:

“Oh no, I woke with a headache. Boy, do I feel tired! Does that mean I’m at risk for a stroke?

I moved around extra slowly and carefully just in case.

What got me worrying was Monday night’s Tanji Patton report on WOAI’s 10 p.m. news: “A warning for women.” It told how two women suffered a stroke — out of the blue — at widely different ages — one was 49; the other was 15 when she had her first — and suggested that women who show any similar health signs (like that nagging headache) might want to get their blood levels checked and consider lifestyle changes.

Yikes! I immediately made plans for earlier bedtimes and better food choices.

But before doing anything drastic like throw away my chocolate bars, I remembered something. And my mind was put at ease, at least a bit.

It’s one of those months, I realized, when TV news operations try to put viewers on edge, make us fearful, a bit jumpy, so as to compel us to watch their newscasts.

It’s February sweeps — a fact I almost forgot because of the many other biggies of the month: the Super Bowl, the many awards shows, such as the upcoming Grammys and Oscars.”

I’d like to hear from anyone else around the country about their favorite TV sweeps pieces this month.

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February 14, 2007 at 10:32 am

Hmmm, children dying from the flu in MN metro area, I never thought of it as sweeps hype. So what is it? Last Friday I called my son’s ped clinic and inquired of a nurse if my 16 y.o. son should get a flu shot. This well respected large west metro clinic nurse said, “We don’t have any left, we ran out a long time ago. If you think he needs a shot you should look into the shots Cub is giving this weekend.” I again asked, “Do you recommend it?” and she said it was up to me.
So is the media story of flu deaths hype or what? If it is not hype (which I am inclined to feel) why did my son’s primary ped and clinic not have some flu shot supply on hand? If it is not hype, isn’t it kind of cheesy for the clinic to direct me to Cub?

The Publisher

February 14, 2007 at 3:23 pm

I would not characterize coverage of flu deaths as sweeps hype. It is legitimate breaking news coverage of events that are occuring at this time.
The health stories I would characterize as sweeps hype are those that create fear, create sensationalism, and lure eyeballs by pandering to promotable topics.