Jennifer D. Wade Journal

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And Now, a Word About Anthrax

Anthrax.  In a world where, as far as I know, we still don't know who sent letters filled with deadly Anthrax to various people (including leading lawmakers) and some of those people died (not including leading lawmakers) in the weeks immediately following 9/11, is the following a story:  A professional dancer from New York City collapses following a performance at Mansfield University and is rushed to a hospital in Bradford County.  Several days later, it is announced that he is suffering from inhalation anthrax, contracted naturally from some goat skins that he brought back from Africa in December.  The initial medical reports are that he is doing well and that no one else is in danger of getting sick, although a handful of people who may have been exposed to the goat skins are taking Cipro as a precaution.  As of tonight, however, the man has reportedly "taken a turn for the worse."

OK.  It is a story.  I just told it.  The better question is, is it a story for TV in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market.  The answer is I don't know.  On two occasions, I have almost put the story in my newscast.  And, on two occasions, I have dropped it when stories which I considered "better" came along.  Thus far, my station has mentioned the anthrax story once, though I believe the story that I dropped tonight will get aired on the Saturday morning newscasts.  That will, at least, get us on board with the story so that if the man dies, any coverage won't come out of a total vacuum.

My reasons for downplaying the story and not really minding that I've dropped it twice are:  a) the victim, for lack of a better word, is from New York City, which is not in our viewing area; b) the victim collapsed at Mansfield University which is also not in our viewing area, though it is in Pennsylvania; c) the victim is being treated at a hospital in Bradford County, which is in our viewing area but on the fringe; d) by the time the inhalation anthrax was diagnosed, the man had already been in the hospital for a few days; e) it is a naturally-ocurring form of anthrax which the victim did not contract in the U.S.; f) he's not contagious, so no one in our area is in danger. 

My reasons for considering the story and feeling slightly guilty about dropping it are:  a)  people are interested because they hear the word "anthrax" and get freaked out; b) the stations in New York are making a big deal about it; c) a lot of people in our area have the ability to watch New York news and because stations there are covering it, a lot of people think it's a big deal.

So, again I ask, is it a story for TV in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market?  In the largest sense of "what is news", I suppose so.  I mean, every day, we air stories from all over the place about all kinds of things.  There's no rule that says "a case of naturally ocurring anthrax", no matter where it happens, could not be one of those stories.

Yet, I wonder if it would ever be one of those stories if the circumstances were different.  If, let's say, the man had collapsed in New York and were being treated at a hospital in New York,  I'm sure the New York stations would cover it, but would we?  Under those circumstances, I'm sure I would not include it in my newscast because who, in Scr/WB, cares about some guy they never heard of getting sick in New York City?  And, he's not even contagious!  Even with the New York hype, I wouldn't run that story.

But does the fact that he happened to end up at a hospital in our area make it newsworthy for Scr/WB?  Not in and of itself, I don't think.  But, it does improve the odds.  And, to use the opposite of my previous example, what if he had ended up in a hospital that was more centrally located than the one in Bradford County, say CMC in Scranton or W-B General or Geisinger in Danville.  Then would it be a story?  Not only do the odds increase, but I bet we'd do team coverage with as many angles as we could think of.

One more time.  Given the actual circumstances, is this case of inhalation anthrax a story for the Scr/WB market?  Maybe not at first, but it's getting to be one, and it will defnitely be one if the man dies.  Final answer.


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